U.S. residents under 40 are dying of accidental overdoses. Death rates in this age group rose 21% from last year. Overdose deaths took 177,000 lives nationwide. In 37 states, overdose deaths are the number one cause of death in this age category, higher than deaths from vehicle accidents, suicide and gun violence. The primary reason for overdose deaths is the presence of fentanyl in recreational drugs. Drug dependency rose during a prescription opioid crisis, particulary involving the opioid, OxyContin, during the early 2000s. As legislation curtailed the mass marketing of OxyContin, users turned to heroin, synthetic opioids and finally fentanyl which is 50 times more potent than heroin.
In Georgia from 2019 to 2021, drug overdose deaths increased by 61% and fentanyl involved overdose deaths increased by 230% representing 2,404 and 1,294 lives lost in 2021. In Georgia drug overdose rate (23.5 per 1000) is higher than the death rate from firearms and homicide. Only COVID took more lives according to 2023 statistics from the National Center for Health Statistics.
Lack of education about the dangers of fentanyl combined with its increasing presence in illicit drugs fuels this health crisis. Fentanyl is often cut into other drugs, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and benzodiazepines, because it is cheaper and provides same or greater effects with less product. Counterfeit drugs are also hard to detect. Yet, just two milligrams of fentanyl can be fatal.
According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, the drug Naloxone can help reverse an opioid overdose and it is available for purchase at many pharmacies without a prescription from a doctor.