Mississippi Sets Drug Overdose Death Record

By Britni de la Cretaz 06/12/17

One official says Mississippi is on the verge of a "super pandemic." 

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Mississippi set a record for drug overdoses in 2016—with 2,011—though some officials say the actual number is likely higher.

“We are mirroring the national trend,” state Bureau of Narcotics Director John Dowdy told The Clarion-Ledger, referring to the staggering increases in fatal drug overdoses across the nation. Many of these overdoses occurred as a result of heroin, but in recent years, a stronger opioid called fentanyl has been the main culprit.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), deaths from fentanyl and similar synthetic opioids have increased by more than 70% nationwide from 2014-2015. In Mississippi, the number of people treated for heroin addiction has more than tripled over the past three years, according to the state Department of Mental Health—rising from 99 to 306. “Mississippi is emerging on the brink of a super pandemic,” said Dowdy.

According to The Clarion-Ledger, there are more opioid prescriptions than there are people in Mississippi. “It’s like two jumbo jets going down every week,” said Marshall Fisher, who heads the state Department of Public Safety. “Would we accept that from the airline industry?” 

Mississippi ranks as one of the best states in the nation in terms of providing access to the life-saving drug naloxone, according to a report by Pacific Standard. It has a law that protects healthcare professionals who provide the drug to laypeople; the state allows for standing orders for naloxone; there is a Good Samaritan law in place that protects people who call 911 to help an overdose victim; and there is a law that protects those who call for help from being legally punished for possessing drugs themselves.

But while there is a law in place to protect first responders who administer naloxone to an overdose victim, The Clarion-Ledger notes that the bill included no funding to provide responders with the drug, which is expensive.

Just this week, a new outpatient treatment center opened in DeSoto County to try to meet the demand for substance use disorder treatment.

"What they're doing is so needed," Carmen Kyle, Executive Director of the Southaven Chamber of Commerce, told the DeSoto Times. "Based on the fact that DeSoto County is No. 1 in Mississippi in heroin and opioid-related deaths, it's a hidden problem that is finally coming to light. This facility is key to combating those statistics. Having that set of statistics is not good for quality of life or people's health."

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.