Coroner’s Report: Overdose deaths on the rise

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Fentanyl-related overdose deaths have been on the rise in St. John Parish in the past two years.

Fentanyl started to appear in St. John in 2017 when it was found to be mixed with heroin and was the cause of seven overdose deaths that year.

The year 2018 saw a slight decline with five overdose deaths attributed to heroin with fentanyl. While 2019 saw only one overdose due to fentanyl, 2020 saw a dramatic increase, with eight deaths due to fentanyl alone. Then 2021 saw a further increase, with 12 deaths due to fentanyl alone. So far in 2022, through the end of June, we have recorded five confirmed overdose deaths due to fentanyl.

Fentanyl is a very powerful opioid drug that is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. It is a synthetic opioid, meaning that it is not found in nature and it is manufactured in a lab. It is used every day in medicine in general anesthesia to aid in sedation and pain relief during major surgical procedures. Because of its potency, very small amounts of the drug are therapeutic but if a person gets too much, it can quickly suppress breathing and lower oxygen levels in the body and cause death.

Illegally manufactured fentanyl has been entering this country primarily from Mexico, where it has been manufactured by notorious drug cartels. The raw materials come from China, where fentanyl is not classified as a controlled substance.

Initially it was made into a powder which was added to heroin so that heroin injections would have a stronger and longer euphoric effect. In the last few years, it has been put into counterfeit pills that are designed to resemble legitimate medicines that are used to treat anxiety, depression, pain or neuralgia. Fentanyl powder can be absorbed through the skin by simple touch, and it can be deadly to someone who is unaware of its presence. By putting it into pills or tablets it is much safer and easier to transport. Thus, there has been a massive influx of illegal fentanyl being smuggled into our country through the southern border with Mexico. It makes its way to the Midwest and East Coast using our interstate highway system, and it is difficult to detect and trace. Recently it has been found mixed with marijuana, crystal methamphetamine, cocaine and mojo, with devasting consequences. The bottom line is that any illegal drug that is bought on the street can now be deadly and lethal without the user knowing what he/she has ingested.

 

Dr. Christy Montegut is the elected coroner of St. John the Baptist Parish. His office can be reached at 985-652-3344..