BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Fentanyl overdoses and deaths are at an all-time high in Jefferson County as officials report a growing number of street drugs like heroin, cocaine and marijuana laced with the potent opioid.
“Using illicit drugs on the street is a very risky activity, but even more now because you do not know what you are getting,” Jefferson County Chief Deputy Coroner Bill Yates said.
Yates said not only are people seeking our fentanyl. They’re also overdosing and dying from the potent drug without even realizing they took it.
“The fentanyl is getting into that product on the street. And when we started seeing that we would get stories from those who were around individuals who overdosed,” he said. “They were going to go purchase cocaine but what we find is that they have Fentanyl and cocaine in their system.”
According to the 2021 Jefferson County Coroner’s Report, 399 people died from drug overdoses last year. That’s a 35% increase from the year before. Approximately 316 of those deaths involved fentanyl. Deadly fentanyl overdoses rose 66% from 2020 to 2021.
“Fentanyl is just so prevalent, you just see it every day, you know we’re buying it daily,” said Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Byron Deramus.
Deramus leads the JCSO’s vice and narcotics division, which works to prevent drugs from crossing into county lines.
According to the Crisis Center’s Recovery Resource Center, there were 406 EMS runs in Jefferson County in May alone, the majority of which were from fentanyl.
“My friends, my acquaintances, there’s at least one death a week,” said Dani Sims, recovery resource certified recovery support specialist at the Recovery Resource Center.
Sims knows all too well what’s it’s like to overdose from fentanyl. She said for seven years, she was addicted to opioids, overdosing at least once a week.
“When I found fentanyl, it was by accident. It was mixed in with my heroin,” she explained. “My tolerance to heroin was so high that the fentanyl was amazing to me.”
Sims has been in recovery for six years, working at the Recovery Resource Center and helping those who are addicted find ways to overcome it like she has.
Despite the rising number of overdoses and overdose deaths, Sims explained there’s still hope for addicts, and that community response to the drug crisis can make a difference.
“We definitely need more harm reduction out there like the fentanyl test strips, like wider distribution of naloxone, like education for the community,” she said.
Since 2018, the Recovery Resource Center has helped more than 7,000 people locally.
If you are an addict and need help, you can contact them at 205-458-3377.