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Jefferson County overdose deaths hit all time high in 2021

JCDH working to reduce overdose deaths after record setting year
Published: Apr. 7, 2022 at 9:25 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 7, 2022 at 10:31 PM CDT
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JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ala. (WBRC) - A new report from the Jefferson County Coroner shows a huge increase in overdose deaths last year. Almost 100 more people died from drug overdoses in 2021, compared to the year before.

Last year, 401 people died from overdoses. In 2020, that number was 302 and in 2019 is was 236. That means in only two years, overdose deaths rose by 70% in the county.

The coroner breaks down the numbers even further in his report: The leading age group in overdose deaths is people between 40 and 49. The report also shows more white males die by overdose than any other gender and race.

Dr. Darlene Traffanstedt, a medical director with the Jefferson County Department of Health (JCDH), said fentanyl is the big driver in these numbers.

“Fentanyl is a very potent opioid,” said the doctor. “It is being manufactured in clandestine labs and being mixed in with all other drugs that are available for purchase on the streets of Jefferson County today.”

Dr. Traffanstedt said while in the past, fentanyl was found in heroin now, it’s everywhere... but there is hope for those struggling with addiction.

“All socioeconomic statuses are at risk,” she added. “All races, genders, ethnicities, and age based on what’s happening with fentanyl in our communities.” She says it’s a complex problem so there is an all hands on deck approach within the county.

It starts with law enforcement getting and keeping drugs out of the area. Another section is providing recovery resources for users to get clean. Lastly, harm reduction is crucial. JCHS is spending a lot of effort in the last category with the help of Nalaxone or Narcan and fentanyl testing strips.

In March, a new bill allowing for fentanyl testing strips to be distributed was passed.

“This has been shown in studies from other states to change the behavior of users,” said Dr. Traffanstedt. “So if they test their drug and it’s positive for fentanyl, it has been shown that they may not use that drug at all or they may use it in a safer way.”

When the law becomes effective in June, the department plans to give them out. Their other effort is being used right now.

“The state health officer has a standing order at pharmacies so anyone can walk into a pharmacy and ask for a prescription for Narcan, without their own prescription,” she said.

Narcan can treat overdoses in an emergency situation.

JCDH also has free Narcan kits available for the public. After watching a training video, you’re eligible to receive the kit. They have more information about the kits on their website.

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