According to a Thursday, March 21 report from the Centers for Disease Control, deaths from the synthetic opioid fentanyl increased by more than 1,000 percent from 2011 to 2016. As one might imagine given the problem of opioid addiction in Guilford County, fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are now wreaking a wide path of destruction here too.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that’s similar to morphine but is much more powerful. It’s also exceptionally deadly and getting more so.
From 2011 to 2012, the number of fatalities related to fentanyl nationally remained steady at about 1,600 a year, and, in 2013, that number increased to over 1,900. Then, in 2014, fentanyl-related deaths began to double every year. In 2014, fentanyl led to 4,223 deaths. The next year that number was 8,251. In 2016, those deaths had jumped to 18,335.
Synthetic opioids like fentanyl and tramadol are big killers across North Carolina. In 2017, for instance, there were 1,285 deaths from synthetic opioids like fentanyl – while natural opioids, like oxycodone and hydrocodone, killed 573 people through overdoses.
In the state that same year, there were 537 deaths from heroin overdoses and 103 from methadone.
Emergency responders and medical staff in Guilford County are seeing alarming trends locally as well. According to Guilford County Emergency Services Director Jim Albright, the damage from synthetic opioids is being felt in Guilford County without question.
“The numbers of citizens suffering from substance use disorder continues to be alarming, and the lethality of the illicit compounds cannot be denied,” Albright wrote in an email. “In calendar year 2018, EMS and our public safety partners reversed over 900 suspected opioid overdoses, and attended to approximately 85 deaths.”
Albright said those preliminary numbers won’t be official for several months – when the NC Office of the Chief Medical Examiner releases its final toxicology report.
He said emergency responders and medical professionals in Guilford County reversed about 700 overdoses in calendar year 2017 – with over 100 deaths.
“So, the number of suspected overdoses is continuing to increase, however, the lethal overdoses per suspected is down,” he said.
According to Albright, the local program known as GCSTOP – which stands for “Guilford County Solution to the Opioid Problem” – is providing some help.
“We continue to offer post reversal follow up for patients that overdose,” Albright wrote, “and will provide a host of harm reduction strategies and facilitated navigation for treatment options for anyone requesting them.”
Another alarming trend in Guilford County, he said, is the number of people who are using multiple drugs at one time.
“We are also seeing an uptick in ‘poly-pharmacy’ overdoses/death, or mixed substance ingestions,” Albright wrote. “Combining prescription or illicit compounds can be particularly unpredictable and dangerous.”
Albright said that, as a harm reduction strategy, citizens should secure all unused prescription narcotics and dispose of any unwanted medications.
“It is estimated that 80 percent of all persons addicted to opioids began with prescription medication,” Albright said.