Local officials concerned about synthetic drugs as overdose death toll rises

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) – According to the numbers, overdose deaths in St. Joseph County are exactly where they were this time last year, which means fighting it isn’t getting any easier.

“We had the highest number of overdose deaths ever reported in our county,” said St. Joseph County Health Department Director of Health Robin Vida.

In 2021, deaths involving fentanyl and other synthetic opioids were higher than ever.

“The problem is that it’s really the highest, at least in the almost 15 years I’ve been here, the highest it’s been,” Vida said.

According to the St. Joseph County Health Department, St. Joseph County had 97 overdose deaths last year. This year through June, the county has recorded 42 overdose deaths.

St. Joseph’s County Coroner’s Office Dr. Patricia Jordan said these opioid overdose deaths were all between the ages of 19 and 70, with about 65% of overdose deaths due to fentanyl.

“We see fentanyl, parafentanyl, parafluorofentanyl and mixed with heroin, cocaine. I had a bad case where someone was a heroin attic, everyone knew that. Except he didn’t have heroin, they didn’t sell him heroin, they sold him fentanyl and it killed him and he had no idea,” says Dr. Jordan.

Although treatments like Narcan are widely available to police, firefighters and emergency services, Dr. Jordan says they should not be relied upon as a primary solution to solving the spread of synthetic drugs.

“Part of me thinks maybe we need to rethink the Narcan in the community because it was never meant to be used by people, it was meant to be used by the police themselves if they walked in in a room where there was an unknown type of powder, and something happened to one of them. But now it has become available to everyone and people take it for granted that they got this potion magic that will pull them out and who won’t pull them out,” says Dr. Jordan.

Dr. Jordan adds that there are 15 different types of fentanyl that have been shown to be deadly. Vida says if you need help, you can start by contacting the St. Joseph County Health Department or going to an Oaklawn treatment center near you.

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Alvin J. Chase