Mail Tribune/File photo In March, Rogue Valley law enforcement arrested a man with 5,030 fentanyl pills, plus heroin, methamphetamine and a handgun. Fentanyl has fueled a rise in local and national overdose deaths.
Suicides down; car accident deaths, homicides on the rise
Overdose deaths rose to 91 in Jackson County in 2021, from 41 deaths in 2020 and 16 in 2019, according to data from the Jackson County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Overdose deaths in 2021 outnumbered deaths from suicides, car accidents or homicides – the other main categories of preventable sudden deaths investigated by the medical examiner’s office.
Deaths by suicide rose from 69 in 2020 to 55 in 2021. Deaths from car accidents rose from 15 in 2020 to 38 in 2021, and homicides rose from seven to nine, according to data from the Sheriff’s Office of the Jackson County.
The spike in overdose deaths reflects national trends, as dealers increasingly mix fentanyl with drugs such as heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and even marijuana. Fentanyl is a potent artificial opioid that can suppress breathing and be fatal. A few grains the size of salt can kill a grown man.
“People are now dying much faster. People turn blue and fall to the ground,” said Rogue Valley resident Julia Pinsky, co-founder of the nonprofit group Max’s Mission.
Max’s Mission distributes free naloxone, an easy-to-use nasal spray that can reverse an opioid overdose and restore breathing. The nonprofit is named after Pinsky’s son, Max, who died of a heroin overdose at his home in 2013 when he was 25.
Before fentanyl proliferated in the drug supply, people would often die more slowly from an opioid overdose from heroin or prescription opioid painkillers. Police, paramedics and family and friends equipped with naloxone had more time to reach the person and reverse the overdose.
“It takes more doses of naloxone to reverse an overdose. You have to be there much faster,” Pinsky said. “Someone can die in three minutes.
International drug cartels used to rely more on heroin derived from poppy flowers. Now they make fentanyl using a mixture of chemicals.
“Fentanyl is an easily manufactured synthetic opioid. Cartels no longer have to wait for a crop to be harvested,” Pinsky said. “The profit margin is huge.”
Max’s Mission regularly hosts free overdose antidote distribution events with training in Oregon. It is also sending overdose antidote kits to residents of Jackson, Josephine and Klamath counties.
Pinsky said Max’s Mission began offering people the choice of plain naloxone or a stronger version of the overdose antidote to help counter fentanyl. Anyone who administers naloxone should still call 911 for medical help, because the person who overdoses can relapse into an overdose, even after multiple doses of naloxone.
Without Max’s mission, police, paramedics and others distributing and administering naloxone, Pinsky said the number of overdose deaths would be far higher.
“We would have people dying every day,” she said.
Pinsky said she hears heartbreaking stories from people who have lost loved ones.
“Parents find their 20-something son or daughter in bed after dying of an overnight fentanyl overdose from a tiny little pill,” she said.
Drug dealers sometimes use fentanyl to make counterfeit prescription painkillers. The pills appear to be from a pharmaceutical company. They are often stamped with what looks like a pharmaceutical company mark.
In 2021, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office found enough fentanyl to kill 16,000 people in raids of illegal marijuana operations.
In March of this year, the Rogue Area Drug Enforcement Team and the Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement Team arrested a man with 5,030 pills of fentanyl, a pound of heroin , 3.5 grams of meth and a handgun on I-5 near Grants Pass.
Also in March, the Oregon US Attorney’s Office announced that two separate investigations had found 265,000 counterfeit pills made with fentanyl plus 20 pounds of bulk fentanyl. Cartels reportedly planned to distribute the pills in Oregon and Washington.
Legit fentanyl is used to treat severe pain, such as that experienced by cancer patients. But drug cartels are increasingly using ingredients bought in China to make fentanyl in illegal Mexican labs, according to a 2022 report from the Federal Synthetic Opioid Trafficking Commission.
Pinsky said she sees no end in sight to the escalating drug overdose deaths.
She said: “2022 will not be better. It will probably be worse. It just seems to be accelerating.
Nationally, about 106,854 people died from drug overdoses in the 12 months ending November 2021, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Overdose deaths increased from the previous year, when approximately 93,000 people died. The number of 2000 was a record, until it was eclipsed by the latest tally for 2021.
“It affects every socio-economic group you can imagine, from people on the streets to people who are fairly well off,” Pinsky said. “It’s not just about ‘these people’. That’s a big part of the stigma. Everyone likes to think, ‘It’s those people.’
Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler said he believes the spike in local overdose deaths was due to fentanyl and Oregon’s Measure 110.
“We think Measure 110 and fentanyl have a significant impact on that number,” he said of the 91 overdose deaths in Jackson County in 2021.
Approved by Oregon voters and financially backed by a New York-based drug decriminalization group, Measure 110 decriminalized possession of quantities of drugs such as heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine starting in 2021. People caught with these drugs are issued a $100 ticket, which can be voided if they call a state hotline and answer certain screening questions. They don’t have to seek treatment to get the fine waived, and few people called the hotline, according to tracking data.
Measure 110 touted decriminalization and treatment, and diverts hundreds of millions of dollars of Oregon marijuana tax revenue from schools, law enforcement and other services to help people who use marijuana. Drugs.
However, Oregon does not use diverted revenue to fund drug treatment such as residential programs or drug rehabilitation centers, where people can withdraw from drugs under medical supervision and with the help of medications that alleviate withdrawal symptoms.
Because marijuana remains illegal federally, Oregon fears jeopardizing federal drug treatment funding if it uses state marijuana tax revenue. Drug treatment providers say government reimbursement rates are so low they can’t attract and keep workers, limiting their ability to serve people with substance use disorder . Most have long waiting lists for residential treatment.
The Measure 110 Oversight and Accountability Council, which is made up of Oregon residents, allocated an initial pool of more than $30 million last year to efforts such as distributing overdose antidotes, clean needle exchange programs for injection drug users, supportive housing and peer mentors.
But this year, the oversight board is mired in a flood of grant applications for $270 million in Measure 110 funding from marijuana taxes. Groups hoping to get money remain in limbo.
Sickler said he thinks the measure and its implementation need to be reassessed.
“I think it will have a significant negative impact on the community,” he said.
Oregon ranks second among countries for drug and alcohol addiction, and has fallen to last place among states for access to treatment for substance use disorders, according to the latest data. federal collected in 2020.
According to the data, nearly one in five Oregonians age 12 and older has a substance use disorder.
Drugs and alcohol play a role in some of the car crash deaths in Jackson County, according to toxicology reports written when people are killed.
In 2019, Jackson County recorded 20 fatalities in crashes and 18 cases involving impaired driving, according to data from the sheriff’s office.
People were driving less in 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The county recorded 15 fatal crashes that year, including seven cases involving impaired driving.
Toxicological data are not yet available for the 38 fatal accidents in 2021.
Sickler said MPs have seen an increase in aggressive driving. They’ve also been drawn to illegal marijuana operations and have less time to write tickets for speeding and other types of dangerous driving.
From 2016 to 2018, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office investigated two to three homicides each year. The sheriff’s office recorded six homicides in 2019, seven in 2020 and nine in 2021.
Sickler said violent crime, including homicide, is on the rise with the proliferation of illegal marijuana operations in the county.
Marijuana is legal in Oregon, and hemp – the marijuana look-alike that doesn’t get users high – was legalized nationwide in 2018. Some growers grow marijuana under the guise of hemp to avoid more onerous state marijuana regulations.
The number of suicides rose from 73 in 2019 to 69 in 2020 and 55 in 2021 in Jackson County, according to data from the sheriff’s office.
Although still tragically high, the drop in suicides was good news for people who feared a spike in suicides during the pandemic. Surveys of young people and adults have consistently revealed higher rates of depression and anxiety in recent years.
Contact Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.