The number of drug overdose fatalities has decreased by 32% halfway through 2024 in Jefferson County, despite concerns at the beginning of the year.

This time last year, Coroner Bill Yates said there were 244 drug overdose deaths countywide. So far this year, there have been 122 confirmed drug fatalities, with 43 suspected drug fatalities. Even if all suspected cases are confirmed with toxicology, that will be a total of 165 drug overdose deaths.

Yates said while he is encouraged and hopeful, the decrease could be linked to drug users becoming more tolerant of the drugs.

"This is seen in the drug levels of the living," said Yates. "For example, DUI arrests where the levels of fentanyl in the driver are as high as some of our fentanyl deaths but the person does not overdose and can operate a motor vehicle."

Thanks to opioid case settlements in lawsuits brought by Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, the Alabama Department of Public Health and local agencies can educate the public and provide prevention strategies.

The Fairhope Police Department is using the money to implement new Narcan training and opioid education opportunities for citizens.

Residents statewide can also receive free Narcan kits by watching online video training.

During the opioid crisis, the Jefferson County Coroner's Office has monitored drug trends closely, identifying new types of drugs that cause death. While heroin was previously a concern, fentanyl quickly took over, causing more casualties. Over the past three years, fentanyl, along with cocaine and methamphetamine, have been the top three causes of drug overdose fatalities.

Other substances he has sounded the alarm on include Xylazine, a large animal tranquilizer that does not react to anti-opioid medications such as Narcan or naloxone.

Yates said his office has not identified new drugs causing concern this year.

While the coroner's office does not receive money from the opioid settlements, Yates said his office is applying for a grant to replace toxicology instrumentation.

"We need the new instrumentation to keep up with the ever-changing drug trends, but apparently the opioid funds cannot be used for our purposes," he said.

Adding to the good news, Yates said the coroner's office's entire caseload across most types of deaths has decreased this year.

The Jefferson County Coroner/Medical Examiner's Office provides an interactive statistical data report online.

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