'Alarming increase': Fentanyl passes meth as cause of OD deaths in Pima County
A "sustained increase" in the number of overdose deaths related to fentanyl — which are numbering more than a decreasing number of fatal meth ODs — has Pima County officials issuing an alert to healthcare providers, calling the rise "alarming."
So far this year, 32 residents of the county have died from fentanyl overdoses, despite more widespread use of Narcan by law enforcement. In 2020, fatal ODs from the opioid have numbered more than those from methamphetamine for the first time, officials said.
Deaths from fentanyl have been increasing since early 2019, and, if this trend continues, Pima County Health Department officials project more than 100 deaths from the drug here this year.
"We track overdose deaths, and have seen an alarming rise in deaths from fentanyl, with more people in their 20s dying from overdose," said Mark Person, manager of the Health Department's Community Mental Health and Addiction Program. "If this trend increases, we tragically may see almost 50 deaths in that age group by the end of the year, which would be an 85 percent increase."
The county issued an alert to healthcare providers this week because of the increase.
Fentanyl was linked to 32 overdose deaths in the county from January through the end of March. Meth caused 25 deaths so far this year, down from more than 40 fatal ODs in the third quarter of last year. A dozen people died from both heroin and cocaine so far this year.
Three of the fentanyl deaths in the first quarter of this year were people aged 19 or younger; one was an infant, officials said. Half of those who died from fentanyl so far in 2020 have been aged 27 or younger.
Fentanyl is extremely potent, frequently leading to accidental overdose when taken by itself or with other drugs or alcohol. The opioid is often mixed with other narcotics, like heroin, cocaine, or meth, leading to accidental ingestion and sometimes overdose.
The Health Department suggests: