Violent crime isn’t the only thing taking lives in Jefferson County.

According to a new report from WBHM, overdose deaths exceeded homicides and vehicle-related deaths in Jefferson County in 2022, and Jefferson County chief deputy coroner Bill Yates said that he doesn’t see it slowing down.

In Birmingham, 2022 was the deadliest year in modern history when it came to violent crime, totaling at least 144 killings. The last time Birmingham homicides numbered above 130 in a single year was in the early 1990s. Birmingham homicides have been on the rise since 2018. In 2020, there were 122 homicides, followed by 132 in 2021.

Nevertheless, drug overdoses are higher. According to the report, preliminary evidence suggests that at least 417 people died from overdoses in Jefferson County in 2022. Moreover, 31 deaths are suspected of having been overdoses. Officials will release finalized data in April. 

Of the 417 confirmed overdose deaths, at least 356 were due to opioids, the majority of which involved fentanyl. 

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, synthetic opioids like fentanyl are being trafficked into the United States, often from foreign countries, and mixed into other drugs like heroin, methamphetamines, and cocaine.

Drug traffickers do this because fentanyl is cheap, potent and easy to cut with other substances.

But just two milligrams of fentanyl can be potentially lethal. 

Some people who take pills or use other drugs laced with fentanyl don’t know that fentanyl is present.

Overdose deaths in Jefferson County skyrocketed during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Yates told WBHM that fentanyl mixed with meth and cocaine is starting to become more common while overdose deaths from heroin and pills are less likely than they used to be. 

Jefferson County isn’t the only place in Alabama experiencing issues with fentanyl.

Last year, a student passed away in the cafeteria of Selma High School. A toxicology report confirmed that he had hydrocodone and fentanyl in his system. 

A report conducted between November 21, 2021, and November 20, 2022, named Alabama the state with the seventh-highest non-fatal opioid overdose rate in the country. 

In October 2022, 1819 News investigated the prominence of opioid overdoses in Alabama. 1819 News found that opioid overdose deaths rose sharply in 2016, according to the Alabama Opioid Overdose and Addiction Council. The numbers trended downward for the next four years until sharply increasing again in 2020. Overdoses hit an all-time high in March 2021, reaching 474.

Nevertheless, a more recent report by the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners claimed that physicians reduced the number of opioid prescriptions in the state by 41.6% from 2012 to 2021. The dosage strength of opioid prescriptions also fell 52.7%, but prescriptions of the opioid antagonist drug naloxone rose 851%.

Naloxone is used to reverse the effect of opioids to counter a potential overdose. The Alabama state health officer issued a standing order for naloxone in 2017.

Symptoms of an opioid overdose include chest and abdominal pain, sleepiness, confusion, coma, cool and sweaty skin, and low temperature, pulse rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure. 

The Alabama Department of Public Health suggests seeking immediate medical care from a doctor, local poison center or the emergency room if an overdose is suspected. 

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