Home Local News OPIOID EPIDEMIC: Richmond County among top 10 in fentanyl-positive death rates

OPIOID EPIDEMIC: Richmond County among top 10 in fentanyl-positive death rates

Illegal possession of fentanyl will be a felony, pending Gov. Roy Cooper's signature of Senate Bill 321.
William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — Richmond County had the third-highest rate of fentanyl-positive deaths last year, according to a preliminary report from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

The graphic, published April, shows the county had 30 fentanyl-positive deaths from December 2021 to November 2022 at a rate of 67.7 per 100,000.

Jones County in the eastern part of the state — which has a population of fewer than 10,000 — had a rate of 97.7 with nine deaths.

Swain County, on the Tennessee border — which has a population of around 14,000 — had a rate of 77.6 with 11 deaths.

Craven County, also in the east, with a population more than twice that of Richmond, had a rate of 66.2 with 67 deaths.

Rounding out the top 10 are:

  • Robeson County – 85 deaths, rate of 65.4
  • Rowan County – 88 deaths, rate of 61.8
  • Randolph County – 86 deaths, rate of 59.5
  • Buncombe County – 142 deaths, rate of 53.9
  • Lee County -33 deaths, rate of 52.9
  • Gaston County – 116 deaths, rate of 51.2

Overall, North Carolina saw a 4% increase in fentanyl-positive deaths from the previous year, with a total of 3,292.

Robeson County had the highest rate in 2021, followed by Montgomery, Bladen, Columbus, Pamlico, Scotland, Cherokee, Randolph, Lee and Rockingham counties.

Data from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner shows that many of the deaths also involved other drugs. However, the number of those with fentanyl only shot up from October to November, while the presence of other drugs decreased.

Data suggests that white males account for a majority of the deaths.

However, it appears the age range is trending older.

In 2021, the most fentanyl-involved deaths were among those 25-34, closely followed by those aged 35-44.

However, the majority of deaths in 2022 were among those in the two age groups ranging from 45-64.


According to the N.C. Opioid Dashboard, Richmond County had the second-highest rate of drug overdose emergency department visits in the state last year (206, with a rate of 459.5), surpassed only by Robeson County (609, with a rate of 466.2).

Those visits include all intents, including unintentional and self-inflicted.

Naloxone use in overdose responses also quadrupled in 2022 compared to the previous year in the county. Click here to read that story.

U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, who represents part of Richmond County, announced Thursday that the HALT Fentanyl Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives.

Hudson and Rep. Chuck Edwards are both listed among 52 cosponsors of the bill.

According to the legislative summary, the bill would, in part, permanently classify fentanyl-related substances as a Schedule I substance. A temporary classification expires in 2024.

Offenses involving 100 grams or more would result in a mandatory 10-year prison sentence.

“Fentanyl is a deadly poison that is killing 200 Americans every single day,” Hudson said in a press release. “We need to give law enforcement every tool possible to fight this deadly poison in every form. That’s why I am proud of my HALT Fentanyl Act to help curb the presence of fentanyl in the United States and reduce deaths.”

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Managing Editor William R. Toler is an award-winning writer and photographer with experience in print, television and online media.