Overdose deaths in Charlotte rose over 20% from a year ago and fentanyl is the main culprit, according to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.
Already this year, CMPD has reported as many as 137 fatal overdoses and responded to 1,000 calls to aid overdose victims. Most of these involved fentanyl.
One of these calls came late Sunday night, when a 32-year-old in Charlotte became the 137th victim, officials said at a press conference Monday.
Dr. Jon Studnek, Medic’s deputy director, who joined CMPD at the news conference Monday, said the agency treats about seven patients a day with suspected opioid overdoses. Medic does what it can, but more help from the community and other harm reduction programs are needed, Studnek said.
Dr. Christine Murphy with Atrium Health also spoke and said fentanyl is so pervasive in Charlotte’s drug supply that she is seeing more patients admitted to the emergency department who overdosed and had no idea they were taking fentanyl.
Murphy said the emergency department at Atrium is also seeing an increase in the number of teenagers with fentanyl poisoning and an increase in toddlers who are being exposed to fentanyl and going into cardiac arrest.
Late last month, a toddler was taken to the hospital from Union County after police found liquid fentanyl in the child’s sippy cup. And last week, a Cornelius couple was arrested after their baby overdosed on the drug, The Charlotte Observer previously reported.
“Fentanyl is extremely dangerous and it is pervasive in our community,” Murphy said. “You can’t predict who is going to use fentanyl, you can’t predict what pills you use have fentanyl in them, and you don’t know who is going to end up dying from a fentanyl exposure.”
Police in Charlotte are mostly seeing fentanyl in the form of white, or off-white powder and counterfeit pills. Most people don’t even realize they are taking fentanyl, CMPD’s Maj. Luke Sell said.
“No one should take a pill that’s not prescribed and picked up from a pharmacy,” Sell said. “Counterfeit pills are often made with fentanyl. So, when a person takes a pill, thinking they are taking a safe medication, they could end up overdosing and dying.”
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid like morphine and codeine that is typically prescribed by doctors to treat patients with chronic pain, Sell said. As little as 2 mg can be deadly.
Last year, the Department of Homeland Security Investigations seized three times the amount of fentanyl capable of killing every resident in both North and South Carolina, the Observer reported.
Already this year, CMPD has seized 30 kilograms of suspected fentanyl and more than 84,000 fentanyl pills. This is more than enough to kill 15 million people, the agency said.
Fentanyl Harm Reduction
To help combat the fentanyl crisis, Medic is giving out 50 boxes — typically 1-2 doses a box — of naloxone per month. Naloxone, also referred to as Narcan, is a medicinal spray given through the nose that can help a person who has overdosed.
“Naloxone in the hands of community members saves lives,” Murphy said. “This may be the life of a family member, this may be the life of a colleague, this may be the life of your child.”
Medic also announced Monday that it will be launching an overdose map to find data on where these overdoses are occurring.
The Mecklenburg County Public Health Department announced that the county will receive $72 million in funding from the opioid settlement over the next 18 years to help fund programs to combat the overdose crisis.
Already, the department is working with harm reduction and syringe exchange programs in the area to help those who use drugs access safer supplies and help if they want it.
The Center for Prevention Services runs one of the only syringe access programs based in Mecklenburg County through a center called Queen City Harm Reduction. The center is located at 811 Eastway Dr. and provides fentanyl test kits, Narcan and clean syringes.
“If you or somebody you care about is suffering with substance use disorder, there is hope,” Murphy said. “There are multiple resources available in our community to help.
“It can be frustrating at times to navigate those resources, but I think a great starting place is your local health department, your physician’s office, or Atrium health has a behavioral health line that is accessible 24/7.”
The number for that behavioral health line is 704-444-2400.