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Madison County drug overdoses skyrocket in 2020

Updated: Jun. 14, 2021 at 11:07 AM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Drug overdoses in Madison County are projected to be up more than 33%, according to Madison County Coroner Tyler Berryhill.

Berryhill said Madison County usually sees 73 to 75 drug overdoses each year, that’s about one every five days. In 2020, Berryhill said Madison County has had 85 drug overdoses confirmed, so far. But once all the toxicology reports come back, Berryhill said he expects the final death toll to be well over 100.

“When you see these statistics, these are people’s lives,” Berryhill said. “They’re somebody’s son, somebody’s daughter, a brother, a sister, a mom or a dad.”

Mike Woods, a Certified Recovery Support Specialist with Partnership for a Drug-Free Community, said the COVID-19 pandemic only made drug addiction worse for many who are suffering.

“People are not going out as much, if they do they are covering their face a lot of times,” Woods said. “We can hide who we are with some sunglasses and no one might really know how we look that day or from the past few days. So why would I not do more? Why would I not try to hide it if I don’t have to now.”

Berryhill said Fentanyl is the biggest issue, accounting for roughly 75% of the drug overdoses in Madison County.

“It’s so much more potent, so the euphoric effects are so much more effective than other drugs,” Berryhill said. “For example, heroin, fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more effective than that drug.”

Berryhill said fentanyl is also much more dangerous.

“Just a few grains is fatal to the average adult,” Berryhill said.

Woods agrees, he said he sees fentanyl a lot when he’s out in communities.

“Fentanyl is in everything we can think of,” he said. “If they can make it with fentanyl, they’re making it with fentanyl. Whether it’s crack cocaine or crystal meth, it’s been found in all of it. The deadliest substance seems to be going in all of it.”

But, is the pandemic the cause? Berryhill said it’s too early to tell.

“The past few years fentanyl is the drug of choice locally and nationwide,” Berryhill said. “Only time will tell if this year will mimic what we saw last year.”

But, Berryhill did call 2020 a “recipe for disaster.”

“We had people being quarantined,” he said. “It was an experience we have never been through before in our lifetime. There were so many different factors at play, especially stimulus checks, people at home, people not working, people that do have drug habits, you’ve got limited access to drug counselors.”

Woods adds it’s made especially more difficult when addiction is a “quiet killer.”

“Your family doesn’t want to talk about it,” he said. “Nobody wants to say, ‘Hey, my kids has an addiction or my husband or my wife.’”

Jerry King, the Commander of the North Alabama Drug Task Force, said the Huntsville Police Department is working to investigate these drug over doses.

“We work the overdose deaths, we go out with our homicide investigators and we try and work these overdose deaths,” King said. “And actually are prosecuting some of the drug deals responsible for supplying the drugs to these people who are dying.”

King said they’re also working to shut down entire drug trafficking organizations.

“It’s all about us trying to target the upper echelon of drug trafficking organizations,” King said. “Usually when we do that we see the trickle down effect of that, that it causes in the organizations and we see a disruption and dismantling in the drug flow.”

Part of the work is also connecting people in need with services like Partnership for a Drug-Free Community.

Woods said they have begun working with HPD to get in touch with people who are repeat drug offenders before their situation could get worse.

If you want to help Mike Woods and Partnership for a Drug-Free Community, one of the best things you can do is donate.

“Just imagine if we could fund more peers, like me, we could touch that many more people,” Woods said. “If I work with 500 people a year, adding one would be 500 more people.”

You can donate at the Partnership for a Drug-Free Community website. The organization is also planning several fundraisers in the coming months.

You can also find numerous outlets to help those struggling with substance abuse on the organizations website.

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