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Opioid crisis reaches record highs

Published: Nov. 17, 2021 at 9:33 PM CST
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JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ala. (WBRC) - New federal data suggests America’s drug epidemic has reached its deadliest height, and here in Jefferson County, we’ve already surpassed the number of deaths from opioid overdoses from last year. The CDC said overdose deaths topped 100,000 annually for the first time. Researchers said the new record is being driven by opioid abuse.

“Over the years since the beginning of the opioid crisis in 2014, we have seen an increase just about every year in opioid deaths.”

Chief Deputy Coroner for Jefferson County, Bill Yates, said there was a significant number of opioid overdoses in 2020. In fact, he said it’s the most the county had ever seen with 302 deaths, but as the end of 2021 approaches, Yates said we’ve already surpassed last year’s record numbers.

“We’re standing at about 334 confirmed overdoses as of today. So, that’s significant and that’s alarming, and I expect, unfortunately that number to rise fairly significantly before the end of the year,” Yates explained.

Yates said synthetic opioids, namely fentanyl, have caused the most drug overdose deaths in Jefferson County. He said it’s often mixed with other stimulant drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine. He believes that has introduced fentanyl into new markets and some may be taking it unknowingly.

“What we saw last year, in a one-year time span, is a drastic shift in demographics to now we’re seeing the Black community, unfortunately, has had a huge increase in drug deaths and that demographic shift, while white males in their 40s was still just as strong as ever, and even increased last year, Black males in their 50s is now the peak,” Yates said.

Maj. Clay Hammac with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office said the numbers are not just alarming, they’re heartbreaking, and it’s a challenge law enforcement can’t arrest its way out of.

“This is a challenge that the solution is not exclusively with our school system educating our students, or exclusively with our families educating students, this is a wholistic approach to solve, and I think in order to do better at…not just as a community, but as a nation, we need to focus a lot of energy and attention on prevention and intervention. There’s a heart issue surrounding addiction. We have to identify what is the cause of this vicious cycle that leaves a wake of destruction for many families,” Maj. Hammac said.

He added that we also need endurance to combat this crisis and we can no longer turn a blind eye to it because it impacts all communities, backgrounds, and ethnicities, and no one is immune to addiction.

If you, or someone you know, is suffering with addiction, you can call the R.O.S.S. Birmingham Community Center at 844-307-1760.

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