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Officials: Fentanyl overdoses spreading across Georgia

May 16, 2021 GMT

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Fentanyl overdoses, including by people taking pills falsely sold to them as Xanax or Percocet, are spreading across Georgia.

Officials say they have found clusters in the Savannah and Columbus areas after an initial set of cases was found mostly around Augusta.

The suspected overdoses began in January. The state Public Health Department warned of the problem in April and urged people who notice unusual overdose activity or counterfeit pills to contact the Georgia Poison Center or the Public Health Department’s opioid unit.

The Savannah Morning News reported that from Jan. 1 to April 19 in Chatham County, there were 336 suspected overdoses, compared to 368 in all of last year. There have been 20 deaths through April 19, compared to 44 last year.

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“I don’t think that there is any overwhelming demographic for drug use or overdose,” said Chatham Emergency Services CEO Chuck Kearns. “It attacks all. It’s nondiscriminatory.”

Chatham-Savannah Counter Narcotics Team Director Michael Sarhatt told the county commission recently that the agency has made multiple arrests for fentanyl trafficking.

Sarhatt said that when drugs were seized in late April to May 7, only one overdose death was reported.

“That, in my opinion, has a direct correlation to the downtime,” he said. “We were running hot, and we were at that time. At that time we already had 20 fatal overdose deaths.”

Public health officials say counterfeit pills are also being found in Chattahoochee, Dooly, Harris, Muscogee, Schley and Taylor counties.

Eleven patients have been hospitalized and several deaths are pending confirmation in the Columbus area.

“The color isn’t the same. If you have a pill, you can look up the imprint online. The imprint might be the right number, but the wrong font. There’s just something off about it,” Public Health Educator Cheryl Kolb told WTVM-TV. “Think about it, if that person was using meth for three days, or six days, now they’re also addicted to opioids, so they’re going through severe withdrawals that they’ve never had before.”

Officials note Georgia allows naloxone to be obtained for overdose prevention without a prescription. They say multiple doses of naloxone may be necessary if someone has overdosed.

In Chatham County, there have been 159 uses of naloxone through April 19, compared to 193 uses of naloxone last year.