Health department warns about recent surge in overdoses sparked by fentanyl

Published 12:10 am Friday, May 17, 2024

ROWAN COUNTY — The Rowan County Department of Public Health issued a warning in April after it said a recent surge in overdoses across the county could be attributed to illicit substances being laced with Fentanyl.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, has increasingly been found mixed with other substances such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, significantly heightening the risk of overdose and death, according to a release from the department. The deceptive nature of fentanyl-laced substances has led to a rise in overdose cases, posing a grave threat to individuals living with substance use disorders.

From the beginning of January through the end of February, the county saw 120 total overdoses, eight of which ended in death on the scene, according to the Post-Overdose Response Team’s public data portal. From the beginning of March through the end of April, the county saw 162 overdoses ending in 16 deaths, or an increase of approximately 35 percent in overdoses and 100 percent in deaths.

“What makes this situation even more alarming is the emergence of Fentanyl-laced vapes in neighboring counties including those containing THC, which is the psychoactive component in cannabis. The popularity of vaping has unfortunately provided a new avenue for fentanyl to enter the illicit drug market, resulting in unsuspecting individuals experiencing overdoses,” said the department in the release.

The portal data also backs up the department’s warning about the increase in fentanyl-related overdoses. In January and February, 19 of the overdoses were confirmed to involve fentanyl. Between the first day of March and the end of April, 31 of the overdoses involved fentanyl, an increase of approximately 63 percent. If overdoses involving unknown substances are taken out of the equation, fentanyl-related overdoses account for over half of the instances the PORT responded to in both timeframes.

Combating the fentanyl crisis could require an approach including education, prevention and access to life-saving resources. 

“It is crucial for the community to be aware of the dangers associated with Fentanyl-laced substances and to take proactive measures to protect themselves and their loved ones,” said the release.

In response to this trend, Rowan County Public Health’s HOPE team is increasing efforts to raise awareness about fentanyl’s dangers, provide education on overdose prevention, and expand access to naloxone, or Narcan, kits, which can reverse the effects of opioid overdoses and save lives. In addition, HOPE will provide free fentanyl testing strips along with education on how to stay safe.

“It is imperative for individuals to understand that Fentanyl-laced substances can be lethal even in small amounts,” state the department in the release.

HOPE encouraged the community to take the following steps to protect against Fentanyl overdoses:

  • Education about the risks of fentanyl-laced substances.
  • Test substances for the presence of fentanyl using available testing strips.
  • Carry Narcan and know how to use it in case of an overdose emergency.
  • Seek support and treatment for substance use disorders through local resources and organizations.

For more information about fentanyl overdose prevention and available resources, contact the HOPE team at 704-216-8827 or visit the HOPE website at