ND: Meth outpaces opioids as leading cause of overdose deaths in Fargo area

Inforum News –

Unlike opioids, there is no chemical antidote people can use to reverse a meth overdose.

FARGO — Drug overdose deaths in Cass County have been on the rise since 2018, and the total number of fatal meth overdoses in 2020 eclipsed the total number of fatal opioid overdoses in 2016, a year notorious for the number of lives lost to opioid addiction.

Comparing the 42 fatal meth overdoses in 2020 to the 31 fatal opioid overdoses in 2016, Robyn Litke Sall, substance abuse prevention coordinator for Fargo Cass Public Health, said she believes the community is “on the cusp” of an even greater fatal drug problem for which there are very few solutions.

She said that is because, unlike opioids, there is no chemical antidote people can use to reverse a meth overdose.

Sall made her comments during a meeting of the Fargo City Commission Monday evening, Feb. 8.

She said exacerbating the drug overdose problem is the fact that the area is “in the midst of another big surge in trafficking.”

While fatal opioid overdoses fell in 2017 and 2018 after the overdose reversal drug Narcan became more widely available to the public through a FCPH program, Sall noted, the number of those types of overdoses crept back up, reaching 19 overdose deaths in 2020.

She added, however, that about 155 opioid overdose reversals using Narcan were reported to Fargo Cass Public Health in the last half of 2020, compared to 200 similar incidents in all of 2019.

According to Sall, FCPH handed out a record 564 doses of Narcan to individuals in January of this year.

Commissioner Tony Gehrig questioned why opioid overdose deaths have been rising in number even as the number of Narcan doses being distributed to the community has gone up.

Sall said the number of opioid-related deaths would probably be higher without the Narcan distribution, and she noted that after years of seeing rising numbers of new hepatitis C cases, FCPH saw fewer new cases in 2019 after the Narcan distribution program was put in place.

“We’re hopeful those hepatitis C numbers have trended downward as a result of this program,” she said.

When it comes to fatal drug overdoses, Sall said numbers nationwide show “what’s happening here is happening virtually all over the country.”

And despite the toll taken by drugs like meth and opioids, Sall said the drug responsible for causing the most number of deaths, eclipsing all other drugs combined, continues to be alcohol, via things like alcohol poisoning and injuries linked to alcohol.

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