The Jefferson County Coroner reported Monday that the county had reached 100 suspected drug overdose deaths so far in 2023. There was an additional death that was from a confirmed overdose.
Coroner Bill Yates told 1819 News it takes time to confirm drug overdoses because officials have to wait for toxicology results.
Yates said he was highly concerned about opioids, particularly fentanyl.
"Fentanyl is the primary opioid that is causing the deaths," Yates said. "We're seeing it mixed with methamphetamine, other drugs. And alcohol use is a contributing factor in a lot of fentanyl deaths and also listed as a cause of death."
Another concern is xylazine, a livestock tranquilizer that is not an opioid but is a factor in many opioid deaths. Xylazine does not react to naloxone, so even if someone has screened positive for opioids in the emergency room, Yates said they might not respond to the treatment if xylazine had been added to the ingested substance.
In 2020, there was only one death in which xylazine was a factor. In 2021, there were 11 deaths, and in 2022, there are 43, although Yates said not all toxicology results for 2022 were complete, so that number would likely increase.
"It's a stark increase there," Yates said. "Of course, xylazine usually isn't the only thing in the system, but it is mixed with other things, and it is there in toxicology. We're finding multiple drugs in the system."
Yates said that with Monday being only the 65th day of the year, he fears 2023 will be another record-breaking year for overdose deaths.
SEE ALSO: Jefferson County Coroner says drug overdoses continue to rise despite resources
"On Sept. 11, 2001, everyone remembers where they were," Yates added. "You kind of probably have a general reference of what society was like, what was going on in your community, economics, racial strife ... We will have some of the same problems we had back in 2001, but when you look at overdose, compare 2001 to last year. In Jefferson County, we had 67 overdoses in 2001. We had 401 last year, and we will have more than that when all the numbers are back. That's the way I look at it ... Honestly, after a career in law enforcement and death investigation, yeah, society has changed some, but I think generally, it's the same in a lot of ways. But overdoses is a completely different animal now."
The Jefferson County Coroner/Medical Examiner's Office has an interactive statistical data report online.
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