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Fentanyl overdoses on the rise in Idaho, nationwide

In the months of January through September, Idaho State Police seized 125,806 fentanyl pills statewide. It’s a 562% increase from last year, ISP said.
Credit: U.S. Attorneys Office for Utah via AP, file

BOISE, Idaho — This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press

The 12 months from May 2020 through April 2021 marked the worst year for Americans dying from drug overdoses, as the number of overdose deaths surpassed 100,000 nationwide within that time frame.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that fentanyl was the leading cause of death between those 18 to 45 years old. According to the data collected by the CDC, 64,268 fatal fentanyl overdoses occurred between April 2020 and April 2021.

Fentanyl is a drug used to treat severe pain, 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. However, according to the CDC, the overdose epidemic is coming from fentanyl that’s illicitly made to increase euphoric effects.

In the Treasure Valley, Joe Decker, spokesperson for the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office, said the coroner has reported 12 fentanyl-related deaths this year, an increase from last year when only one was reported. This would not be considered “normal,” Decker said, and added that the coroner said this has become a much bigger issue in Canyon County, much like other areas.

Lieutenant Eric Skoglund of the Nampa Police Department said the agency has seen a significant increase in fentanyl, more than any other illicit drug. He added that people cannot trust the content and source of the drugs they are taking.

“The overdoses that happen as a result of fentanyl use are the unintended consequence of that type of drug,” he said. “It’s dangerous, and we want to make sure folks understand that and can help us in trying to reduce that type of drug in our community.”

Skoglund told the Idaho Press that the department has had 65 drug-related overdose reports compared to last year’s 49.

The department also equips its officers with the drug Narcan, which can treat a narcotic overdose. In 2020, the department administered Narcan 18 times. This year, they administered the drug 23 times.

“We know what’s out there,” Skoglund said. “We are concerned about it, we want to address it effectively. We have an active narcotics unit that is effective at drug intervention.”

According to the Ada County Sheriff’s Office, emergency medical services have responded to 34 calls this year in relation to fentanyl, and there have been three overdoses. Additionally, on Dec. 15, the Ada County Sheriff charged a man with drug trafficking after officers found thousands of fentanyl pills in his home and drugs in his vehicle. 

The Idaho Falls area is also not immune to this trend as drug overdoses and deaths have risen dramatically in the area within the last two years.

According to the Idaho Falls Police Department, officers were dispatched to 51 opioid overdose-related emergencies between Jan. 1 and Nov. 30. Eleven of those emergencies resulted in an overdose death. At this pace, the department will respond to an average of at least one overdose per week in 2021.

Last year, the department responded to 18 opioid overdoses, four of which resulted in fatalities. In 2019, the department responded to nine overdoses and saw five drug fatalities.

“The 11 fatal number sounds small but percentage-wise, we’re more than double (of the deaths in both 2019 and 2020). All of the numbers are more than double from prior years to 2021,” said Jessica Clements, Idaho Falls Police public information officer.

Fentanyl’s prevalence also is a statewide issue, according to data the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare sent to the Post Register. In 2020, 287 people died from drug overdoses in the state and drug deaths related to synthetic opioids increased from 12% in 2019 to 21% in 2020.

Preliminary state data indicates 213 Idahoans died from a drug overdose from January to September. The deaths and year-to-date emergency department visits related to drug, opioid and heroin overdoses are all above 2020 figures, according to the Department of Health and Welfare.

In the months of January through September, Idaho State Police seized 125,806 fentanyl pills statewide. It’s a 562% increase from last year, ISP said. 

Acting Idaho U.S. Attorney Rafael Gonzalez and Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Frank Tarentino issued a recent news release that said a nationwide surge in counterfeit pills, mass-produced by criminal drug networks in labs and deceptively marketed as legitimate prescription pills, is causing the unprecedented rate of American deaths from overdoses.

“Prescription opioid abuse has already taken a devastating toll on our community,” Gonzalez said in the release. “But we have also seen a terrifying rise in the prevalence of counterfeit prescription pills being sold on the street and online. The public must be aware that while these pills may look like prescription drugs, they likely contain the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl.”

The Associated Press reported on Nov. 17 that the total number of estimated U.S. deaths from drug overdose passed 100,000, a milestone that the country has never seen before. Overdose deaths jumped nearly 30% from the prior year. The CDC reported 93,000 Americans died of an overdose in 2020 and many of the deaths involve illicit fentanyl, which surpassed heroin as the type of drug involved in most overdose deaths five years ago.

“We, along with the rest of the country, are seeing a dramatic rise in illegal fentanyl products in the street,” Clements said. “It’s becoming much more common than it used to be, certainly.”

Drug dealers often mix fentanyl with other drugs, which has also caused deaths from methamphetamines and cocaine to rise, AP reported. The DEA has seized a record 12,000 pounds of fentanyl nationwide in 2021.

Of the estimated 100,306 overdose deaths in the United States from May 2020 through April 2021, more than 75% of those deaths involved an opioid, the release said. This is an increase of nearly 28.5% year over year.

Additionally, Idaho overdose deaths increased for the third year in a row. But the release noted that overdose incidents are nearly 20 times the number of overdose deaths.

A lethal dosage of fentanyl is two milligrams, equivalent in size to a few grains of salt, Gonzalez said in the release. He compared that dosage to a lethal dosage of heroin at 30 milligrams.

Counterfeit pills are illegally sold by drug dealers on the street and over the internet, delivered by mail, the release said. There is no concern of counterfeit pills entering the legitimate prescription supply chain. Counterfeit pills often look exactly like prescription Oxycodone in size, shape, color and markings.

Gonzalez urged all Idahoans to only use prescription drugs prescribed to them by a legitimate health care provider and obtained from their pharmacy.

“That pill you bought off the street could be the last one you ever take,” Gonzalez said in the release.

Idaho will participate in two national opioid settlements with the three biggest U.S. drug distribution companies and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson, which could bring $119 million revenue to the state to fight the drug epidemic, The Associated Press reported Monday. Each of the state’s 44 counties will participate in the settlements. Attorney General Lawrence Wasden announced the state’s participation on Monday.

According to the agreement, 40% of the money would go to counties and cities with another 20% going to regional public health districts, the article said. The remaining 40% would go to a state-directed opioid settlement fund.

The funds would address damage caused by opioids, according to The Associated Press.

“This level of participation shows the strong commitment of both the state and local governments to work together to obtain the most money to fight the opioid epidemic in Idaho,” Wasden said in a statement.

This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press, read more on idahopress.com

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