New data from the White House shows Alabama has one of the highest nonfatal opioid overdose (NOO) rates in the country.

Nationwide, there were 182,402 NOOs between November 21, 2021, and November 20, 2022. The United States had a NOO rate of 55.3 per 100,000 people.

The database did not give specific data for each state and territory but classified the jurisdictions and their respective counties relative to the national average NOO rate. It labeled Alabama “higher than average,” one category below “much higher than average.”

It also ranked the jurisdictions, labeling Alabama the seventh most NOO-heavy state in the country.

The counties with the highest NOO rate in the state were Jefferson, St. Clair, Talledega, Etowah, Cherokee, Walker, Winston, Cullman, Morgan, Bibb, Baldwin, Conecuh, Coffee and Houston counties. They were all ranked “much higher than average.”

High NOO rates were generally concentrated in the central-north and southern parts of the state. 

Though the data is specific to opioid overdoses that do not lead to death, opioid overdoses topped the list of leading causes of death in the United States in 2019.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 564,000 people died from opioid overdose between 1999 and 2020. One hundred eighty-seven people die every day from an opioid overdose. Forty-four people die every day from overdoses involving prescription opioids. 

Widespread prescriptions of opioids began in the 1990s, and overdoses increased throughout that decade. The opioid crisis peaked in the 2010s with rapid increases in overdoses involving heroin. In 2013, overdoses rose due to the introduction of synthetic opioids like fentanyl. 

2020 saw the most significant increase in opioid-related deaths, particularly deaths involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl and tramadol.

In October, 1819 News investigated the prominence of opioid overdoses in Alabama. We 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.

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.

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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