MACON, Ga. — This month, the CDC shared a staggering statistic on drug overdoses. Nearly 108,000 Americans died from overdoses last year. It's the most ever, and about 15% more than the last record set in 2020.
Overdoses involving fentanyl and other synthetic opioids topped 71,000, accounting for about two thirds of all fatal overdoses in 2021.
According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, opioid deaths jumped nearly 40% from 2020 to 2021. Law enforcement agencies in Central Georgia have noticed that trend too. They say the main culprit is fentanyl. Crisp County Sheriff Billy Hancock says even touching the drug can pose danger.
"If they touch it with their hands or somehow ingest part of it, that they may be affected by that drug," Hancock said.
The DEA says fentanyl is a strong synthetic opioid 100 times stronger than morphine. It's generally used to treat severe pain after surgery, but they say it's making its way into recreational drugs; it's often invisible to people who ingest it. Sheriff Hancock says he's seen that trend, too.
"I don't think people know it's being laced, or they certainly wouldn't take it. And then there's a high that goes with it just like any medication or drug that they're abusing or taking," Hancock said.
He says it can be extremely lethal. Just enough fentanyl dust to cover the tip of a ballpoint pen can be enough to kill you, he said.
Sergeant Kemeyan Colvard with the Monroe County Sheriff's Office says they've noticed the increase, too. Colvard says all deputies there carry Narcan with them on calls. The drug can reverse effects of opioids, potentially saving lives.
"To have something that can potentially save your life or someone else's life, it makes you feel a whole lot better," Colvard said. "You know, before EMS can get there."
Colvard says saving people in the moment is only part of it.
"We try to educate them and let them know, 'Hey, you don't know what's in these drugs,'" he said.
Sheriff Hancock echoed the same.
"We need to educate the public and then we need to do an enforcement on it," he said.
Hancock says it's important that you know where your medication comes from, and to buy it in the store; not on the street. He asks you to call their tip line at (229) 322-8891 if you know anyone selling fentanyl. He says one call can save lives.
If a loved one or friend overdoses, call 911, and give them Narcan if you have it. Georgia has a '911 Medical Amnesty Law' that protects anyone seeking medical assistance for a drug overdose from being charged with a drug violation.
If you are or someone you know is struggling with addiction, reach out to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services' Administration Helpline at 1 (800) 662-HELP (4357).