Breaking down the opioid crisis: Where does Alabama stand?

DEA Special Agent said the threat touches every corner of our state.
DEA Special Agent said the threat touches every corner of our state.
Published: Apr. 28, 2022 at 1:13 PM CDT
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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) - Drug overdose is the leading cause of injury-related death in the U.S., according to the CDC. The data shows more than a 500 percent increase in the last two decades.

“Last year alone we lost more people to opioid deaths than gun violence and vehicle accidents alone,” Towanda Thorne-James, Alabama assistant special agent, said. “And even now in this country someone dies of a drug overdose every 5 minutes.”

Thorne-James tells News 4 that in the U.S. 104,000 people died from opioids last year, and that number is skyrocketing. The biggest contributor: Fentanyl.

“Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine,” Thorne-James said.

The drug is indented for cancer patients, but because of it’s opioid properties it’s a popular choice for recreational use.

“It’s killing Americans at an unprecedented rate,” Thorne-James said.

Thorne-James said synthetic opioids are manmade in labs and the ingredients are easy to get.

“The chemicals come from China for the most part, and these opioids and these fake pills are coming in from Mexico,” Thorne-James said. “They are very easy to manufacture, so they are plentiful.”

Drug traffickers are concealing Fentanyl in cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, and counterfeit pills.

“These pills look like the real thing; however, they contain Fentanyl and they are extremely deadly,” Thorne-James said.

Thorne-James said the threat of people ingesting lethal doses of Fentanyl or becoming addicted to the drug because of these counterfeit pills touches every corner of our state.

Earlier this year a Dothan fire medic was charged with trafficking Fentanyl and stealing 42 vials of of the drug from the department. News 4 asked Thorne-James how much harm those one-dose vials could cause in a community. This was her response: “That’s enough fentanyl to wipe out the state of Alabama.”

She went on to say does not even take a needle point of Fentanyl to seriously harm someone or even kill them.

Kim Hart, SOAR Clinical Coordinator, said she often sees patients here in the Wiregrass struggling with these counterfeit pills.

Patients go into Southeast Outpatient Addiction Recovery believing they’re addicted to Oxycontin or Lortab, but when tested it’s coming back as Fentanyl.

The reason:

“Because they are buying it off the street, and it’s the counterfeit Fentanyl,” Hart said.

Hart said masking Fentanyl is very dangerous. It can cause an overdose in someone who might not even know they’re taking it.

“It’s just super scary,” Hart said. “And so I would advise clients out there or patients out there that have a dependency to opioids, to stop buying it off the street and get help, because it’s so much more dangerous now than it was just 6 months ago.”

Next week News 4 will continue this series and we will hear more from Hart as we dive deeper into opioid abuse in the Wiregrass and what you can do for a loved one who may be struggling.

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