Home Local News OPIOID EPIDEMIC: Teen dies of overdose; Richmond County regains highest fentanyl-involved death...

OPIOID EPIDEMIC: Teen dies of overdose; Richmond County regains highest fentanyl-involved death rate

Photo by FirstHealth

ROCKINGHAM — A 15-year-old girl was among the Richmond County overdose patients attended to by FirstHealth EMS in May.

Her case was the only fatality for the month.

Records from the Sandhills Opioid Response Consortium, presented to the Drug Endangered Family Task Force on June 26, show FirstHealth EMS responded to 19 overdose calls.

(Disclosure: This writer is a non-voting member of DEFT.)

Of those, there were 11 in the Rockingham area, three in Ellerbe, and two each in Hoffman and Hamlet. The remaining call is listed as being in Lilesville.

The overdose patients range in age, with the 15-year-old being the youngest and a 71-year-old being the oldest. There were also four patients in their 20s, eight in their 30s, three in their 40s and two in their 50s.

While 4-8 mg or less of naloxone were used to revive patients in most of the cases, one patient required 16 mg.

Not including the fatality, seven of the patients were not transported to a hospital.

As of the breakdown along race and gender lines, there were six patients who were either each black male, white male or white female. The case in Anson County was a black female. All three cases in Ellerbe were black males.

These figures only include calls made by FirstHealth EMS and not those made by other rescue or law enforcement agencies, or schools, in the county.

Cordova Fire and Rescue has had 22 overdose calls since June of last year; and Hamlet Fire and Rescue responded to 31 calls of overdose or ingesting of a poison from Jan. 1-May 31.

According to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Richmond County again has the highest fentanyl-positive death rate in North Carolina.

The latest report, issued June 25, shows Richmond County has a rate of 77.1 for April of 2023-March 2024, with 33 deaths.

Robeson County has the second-highest rate at 67.7 and 79 deaths. Other counties with the highest rates are:

  • Edgecombe – 31 deaths – 64.2
  • Craven – 59 deaths – 58.5
  • Vance – 24 deaths – 57.0
  • Buncombe – 140 deaths – 51.2
  • Rutherford – 33 deaths – 50.8
  • Rowan – 75 deaths – 50.1
  • Scotland – 17 deaths – 49.8
  • Burke – 43 deaths – 48.9

The state average rate is 29.1 with 3,113 deaths during that time frame.

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Records show fentanyl positive deaths are declining this year with 183 in March 2024 compared to 286 in the same month of 2023. So far this year, there have been 610 — a 27% decrease from the first three months of last year.

Other drugs are involved in most cases, with cocaine and methamphetamine being the most common.

The OCME also reports that there were 268 suspected fatal overdoses during the month of May, down from 398 in May 2023.

During Wednesday’s DEFT meeting, Social Services Director Robby Hall said that new data from the state is showing that xylazine is being found in many of the fentanyl based products, especially in Robeson County.

Xylazine — also known as Carfentanil or “tranq” — is a veterinary tranquilizer that is 100 times more potent than fentanyl, according to an alert sent to law enforcement from the Drug Enforcement Administration.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, overdose reversal medications such as naloxone do not reverse the effects of xylazine. However, reversal meds are recommended because opioids are usually present.

“Introduction of this drug may make response to (naloxone) show a slower recovery (return to consciousness) leading to multiple doses of narcan,” Hall said. “Steps that can be taken to combat is counting the breaths of the patient during (naloxone) administration.”

Police in Rockingham and Hamlet say they have not yet encountered any cases involving xylazine.

“Sometimes we catch marijuana that has been laced with fentanyl,” said HPD Maj. Hudson Chitwood, “but it is rare.”