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Jefferson County experiences record overdoses again

Published: Dec. 2, 2021 at 12:22 PM CST
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Before 2021 is even over, Jefferson County has broken last year’s record of 296 deaths from overdoses. The county coroner’s office says overdoses have killed 339 people so far this year, and they expect that number to grow significantly.

What’s especially dangerous according to Darlene Traffanstedt is that 85-percent of those deaths involve fentanyl. Traffanstedt, the county health department’s medical director says the especially potent opioid is often killing people who don’t know it’s in the heroin, cocaine or fake prescription drug they thought they were taking.

“And there’s several public cases of teenagers who have purchased what they think are either Adderall, Ritalin, Xanax, or pain medication over social media,” says Traffanstedt. “And when that tablet often gets delivered to them, it is contaminated with fentanyl. And there have been cases where one tablet was all it took to cause an overdose death in a youth or individual who was not used to having opioids in their system.

This week, the city of New York introduced two overdose prevention centers where users are monitored by trained personnel who can deliver Nalaxone if the person begins to overdose. But Traffanstedt explains the New York effort and others like it in other countries are built programs involving providing clean needles for users, which is illegal in Alabama.

Traffandstedt says one important benefit of those programs is the opportunity to provide a range of services that drug users may not typically get like testing for HIV or hepatitis C.

“Treatment and recovery resources, peers, people who are in active recovery are often there to meet with those individuals who come for services, vaccinations,” says Traffanstedt.

Dr. Traffanstedt says while the state has worked to improve access to treatment services, the county has quadrupled distribution of the overdose reversal drug naloxone to nearly 5,000 units, much of it law enforcement, including the Jefferson County deputy who used the spray to save the life of a 1 year old who ingested drugs in October.

Anyone interested in learning to administer naloxone can learn more by clicking here.

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