DEA says fentanyl continues driving overdose deaths in Jefferson County, across the country

Published: Aug. 21, 2022 at 9:56 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Across the country and right here in Jefferson County, overdose deaths are rising every year.

The Drug Enforcement Administration says the primary driver of the deadly trend is fentanyl, calling it the “single deadliest drug threat our nation has ever encountered.”

Sunday, Aug. 21 marks National Fentanyl Prevention and Awareness Day and the DEA is just one of many organizations dedicated to educating the public about fentanyl in the hopes of saving lives.

“Right now in Jefferson County for 2022, we’re looking at a overdose death rate of about 350 victims,” said Peter Gruden. He’s the acting assistant special agent in charge for the DEA in Birmingham.

Gruden says there were 68 overdose deaths in 2018 within the county. That means the number of overdose deaths have already increased by over 400% in only four years.

While the overdose death numbers aren’t specific only to fentanyl, Gruden says the vast majority are going to be caused by fentanyl or other opioid substances.

He shares a grave warning about the synthetic drug. “One pill of these substances can kill you. The problem is that you don’t really know what you’re getting. There’s no one that can tell you what’s in that pill.”

Gruden says most people don’t even know they’re taking fentanyl.

“When people now think that they’re going to be taking an Oxycontin pill, especially one that they got from the street, most of the time that is not going to be Oxycontin,” he said. “That’s going to be fentanyl mixed in with other ingredients.”

The DEA says only two milligrams of fentanyl can be deadly, but sometimes, Narcan can reverse an overdose.

“It has saved countless lives,” said Gruden. “Not only when you’re talking about the general public, it has saved the lives of police officers who have been exposed on the streets not knowing exactly what they’re dealing with all the time.”

The DEA is also commemorating lives lost to fentanyl poisoning for its museum, The Faces of Fentanyl.

They said if someone would like to honor their loved one, they can submit their name and photos to fentanylawareness@dea.gov, or post a photo and their name to social media using the hashtag #NationalFentanylAwarenessDay.

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