BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBMA) — Over a recent 48-hour period, Jefferson County recorded seven suspected drug overdose deaths. The county coroner's office is so concerned about the high number of deaths, it will now provide daily updates to the media to alert the public of the ongoing crisis.
Jefferson County is on track to set another annual record for drug overdoses as the final 2022 numbers are calculated. Behind those devastating statistics are grieving families asking how can we better deal with this drug epidemic?
"My brother was the biggest goofball ever and he was a great dad to his son," says Taylin McCarver of her older brother T.J. She remembers his big smile, but also the depths of his addiction. T.J. died at age 27. The cause was a deadly mix of drugs that included fentanyl. His addiction started in college.
"A lot of people are surprised when I say my brother died of heroin addiction," remarked Taylin. She said her family believes the more open and honest they are, the more people who are struggling they can help.
T.J.'s father is a local fire medic who through his work has revived young people from overdoses. "We've had some interesting conversations on the way to the hospital. I try to make them realize no one thinks it's going to be you. That's somebody's kid, brother, somebody's world. It's hard," said Todd McCarver.
Jefferson County continues to break records for drug overdoses each year since the opioid crisis started in 2014 according to the coroner's office. In 2021 there were 399 overdose deaths. In 2022, 411 overdose deaths have been recorded so far. Several other cases are pending.
The vast majority are due to opioid overdoses and the vast majority of those are due to fentanyl," explained Chief Deputy Coroner Bill Yates.
He said it appears some addicts are actually seeking out potent fentanyl laced products for the addictive high.
The Jefferson County office has also seen a demographic shift from the majority of deaths being white males in their 40's. "Now black males have surpassed white males for the first time in our history," said Yates.
Experts encourage families to keep connections with an addict without enabling them; you maybe their only lifeline.
"To pretend my child would never do drugs, is the worst thing you could ever do," warned Todd McCarver.
He told us there have been cases where kids thought they were taking an Adderall pill and it was laced with Fentanyl and now they are gone.
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The family encourages you to reach out to local organizations like the Addiction Prevention Coalition for help dealing with addiction.
"It is draining. It's very hard for the addict and the family who cares for them," remarked Tami McCarver. She encourages families to never give up hope. "You've always gotta hold out hope. As long as they're breathing, there is hope."
The Jefferson County Health department has free fentanyl test strips. You can request a packet online here. The process is entirely confidential.