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April 14, 2024

Overdose alert: 10 Jackson County deaths in less than a week

This photo supplied by the DEA shows fentanyl disguised as 30mg oxycodone pills. Jackson County health officials reported 10 drug overdoses in a six-day period in July 2023; nine are believed to have been caused by fentanyl.
July 19, 2023

Fentanyl determined to be the cause of all but one of the deaths

By Erick Bengel, Rogue Valley Times

At least 10 people died from drug overdoses in Jackson County from last Wednesday to Monday, prompting the county’s public health department to issue an overdose alert Monday afternoon.

Ashland, Talent, Central Point, White City and Trail saw one death each.

Then, starting Friday, Medford saw five deaths in a row — three occurring Monday — according to a Jackson County Sheriff’s Office release that amplified the alert.

The oldest decedent was 63, the youngest 22. Only one — the Trail fatality — was female.

In all but one case — the Central Point fatality — the county Medical Examiner’s Office suspects fentanyl in play.

The deaths, according to the release:

• 10:25 p.m. July 12: male, 52, Ashland, fentanyl suspected

• 11 p.m. July 12: male, 56, Central Point, awaiting toxicology

• 11:34 a.m. July 13: female, 31, Trail, fentanyl suspected

• 7:04 p.m. July 13: male, 22, White City, fentanyl suspected

• 10:38 p.m. July 13: male, 45, Talent, fentanyl suspected

• 5:10 p.m. July 14: male, 50, Medford, fentanyl suspected

• 3:57 p.m. July 15: male, 30, Medford, fentanyl suspected

• 8:01 a.m. July 17: male, 63, Medford, fentanyl suspected

• 8:56 a.m. July 17: male, 45, Medford, fentanyl suspected

• 1:16 p.m. July 17: male, 39, Medford, fentanyl suspected

Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler said it is too early to know what caused the sudden spate of fatalities. Among the dead were some who may have taken fentanyl unknowingly.

“We thought that would be something of a public safety concern for people that might be considering using drugs,” Sickler said in an interview.

This was the county’s second overdose alert of 2023.

In early spring, an alert went out following a surge in 911 calls and hospital admissions that stemmed from fentanyl-related overdoses, including fatalities.

An alert lets the public health department’s community partners, medical community and the community at large know what is happening, Tanya Phillips, the department’s health promotion program manager, said in an interview.

“It allows us that opportunity to also talk about the dangers around fentanyl, who it impacts and what people can do to reduce their risk of experiencing an overdose,” she said.

Monday’s alert came after the number of deaths far exceeded this year’s average of two per week, she said.

“That’s alarming to us,” she said.

Overdose deaths have risen sharply countywide over the last few years, with fentanyl turning up in an ever-increasing percentage.

In 2016, the county had 25 overdoses, none involving fentanyl. Five years later, in 2021, the county had 92 overdoses, 48 — more than half — involving fentanyl, according to data from the Medical Examiner’s Office.

Last year saw at least 75 overdoses, 56 fentanyl-related, according to the most recently reported data.

The county is now up to 33 confirmed drug overdose deaths — 30 fentanyl-related — for 2023, the release said. An additional 41 suspected deaths — 23 that appear fentanyl-related — await toxicology results, the release said.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that fentanyl — now the dominate drug in the local illicit supply — is “up to 50 times stronger than heroin.”

Manufacturers often blend fentanyl, a supercharged synthetic opioid, with other illicit drugs and sell them as pills or powder, effectively disguising them as Oxycontin, cocaine and methamphetamine, the release said.

“Using illicit opioids, such as heroin and fentanyl, increases the risk of overdosing,” the release said. “There is no safe way to use illicit opioids, but precautions can be taken that may help reduce the risks associated with illicit opioids. The street drug supply is unpredictable and inconsistent. Assume there is a risk of overdosing no matter what drug is used.”

Reach reporter Erick Bengel at ebengel@rv-times.com or 458-488-2031. This story first appeared in the Rogue Valley Times.

Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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