MEDFORD, Ore-- For the last 8 months, Jackson County has had an Overdose Alert in effect. The reason, a sharp rise in fentanyl overdoses that resulted in death.
According to the Jackson County Sheriff's Office, 14 related fentanyl deaths have been reported in Jackson County since July with 39 overdose cases pending toxicology.
The Sheriff's Office confirmed to NewsWatch 12 that the 14 deaths this year is the highest amount of deaths from fentanyl that the county has ever experienced. The first reported death from fentanyl in Oregon wasn't reported until 2014.
But in Jackson County Fentanyl related deaths began to rise in 2019, when six deaths were reported. Then in 2020, that number more than doubled to 13, and with the 39 overdose cases still pending toxiclogy, the Jackson County Sheriff's Office expects that for the third year in a row, fentanyl related deaths could more than double.
"We are finding people that are unknowingly taking fentanyl," said Aaron Lewis, a Public Information Officer for the Jackson County Sheriff's Office. "They think they are taking xanax, oxycodone or hydrocodone but instead they end with a lethal dose of fentanyl."
According to the CDC it only takes about two milligrams of fentanyl to be a leathal dose. That's the equilvant of a pinch of salt and is several times smaller than the size of a penny. It can also be can be injected, snorted/sniffed, smoked, taken orally by pill or tablet, and spiked onto blotter paper.
Locally, these fentanyl overdose deaths span all demographics and ages, from professionals to retirees, legitimate prescription users to addicts; from an 18-year-old male in Talent, a 23-year-old male in Eagle Point, a 26-year-old male in Medford, a 27-year-old female in Medford, a 32-year-old male in Medford, a 39-year-old male in White City, a 40-year-old female in Jacksonville, and a 57-year-old female in Medford.
That 18-year-old who passed away, believed that he was taking a “Xanax bar” pill, when in fact he had actually ingested a lethal dose of fentanyl according to the Sheriff's Office.
As to why this epidemic has hit Jackson County, the Sheriff's Office does have a couple therios.
"Fentayl is highly addictive and drug dealers are good businessmen, and at a certain point if they can get their client addicted, then they will get a repeated customer," Lewis said.
The Sheriff's Office says that another reason for the uptick in fentanyl related overdose deaths for addicts is because fentanyl is often cheaper than heroin on the street. But experts say that fentanyl is a lot stronger than most other drugs, including being about a 100 times more powerful than morphine.
Which is why in some of these overdose cases, a life-saving drug called Narcon sometimes has to be used several times to save that person's life.
"Fentanyl can be such a powerful opioid that you may have to use the drug once, twice, 10 times to reverse the overdose," said Jackson County's Public Health Director Dr. Jim Shames. "It is scary for the people on the ground using the drug expecting to see an immediate response, but they have to use it over and over again.
However part of the reason, the county has seen so many deaths is because of how powerful this drug can be.
"We had a case on July 18th in Medford of a 32-year-old where a man overdosed and someone was able to get narcan to him right away," said Lewis. "They provided multiple attempts of narcan on him, but they were sitll not able to revive him."
The Jackson County Sheriff's Office wants to remind the public that unless a drug is prescribed by a licensed medical professional and dispensed by a legitimate pharmacy, you can't know if it’s fake or legitimate