On Tuesday, officers with the Statesboro Police Department responded to a call that a woman in her mid-20s had overdosed and needed immediate help. By the time they arrived, however, it was too late – she was dead.
That afternoon, Statesboro Police Chief Mike Broadhead sent out an email to area media and posted a release on the department’s social media detailing the deadly beginning to 2023 caused by drug overdoses.
In Tuesday’s email, Broadhead said the department had responded to seven incidents of drug overdoses so far in 2023 and five of the incidents resulted in a fatality. For all of 2022, officers responded to seven overdose incidents, four of which resulted in fatalities, he said.
“The young woman’s tragic death was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back,” he said. “We don’t typically publish or talk about drug overdoses, but the rapid increase is so alarming, I really thought we need to get the word out just so people could be aware it is happening, particularly to users as a warning. And to let people know that there is a law that allows them amnesty if they call for help.”
Broadhead said all the overdose victims were in their mid-20s and he believes all the deaths were accidental, not suicide. Also, he believes all the victims were previous drug users who were struggling with recovery from their addictions.
“Illegal street drugs are currently more lethal than perhaps at any time in US history,” Broadhead said. “This corresponds with an increase in the presence of Fentanyl.
Fetanyl is an opioid that is used as an analgesic and a powerful sedative in medical settings. In some case, it can be as much as 100 times more powerful than morphine.
“A tiny amount can be lethal, and in many cases, the presence of Fentanyl is unknown to the user until it’s too late,” Brodhead said.
“Even people who are or have been habitual users of these hard drugs – heroin, oxy, opiod drugs – there’s no way to build up a tolerance to Fentanyl. It’s measured in micrograms when administered in a surgical setting, but when people are mixing the drugs themselves, they don’t have the skill set or equipment to measure that tiny amount. People can mix Fentanyl with anything and sell it as something they’ve stolen out of a medicine cabinet.”
Broadhead said he believes a primary reason behind the sudden increase in overdose deaths since Jan. 1 is an increased availability of street drugs laced with Fentanyl.
“I think that only because I don’t have any definitive way to say it’s anything else,” he said. “It’s possible a particularly hot load of drugs came into the community at some point, but I look at the seven incidents and they are spread out over more than a month. That leads me to believe they are not from one batch.”
Broadhead explained that Fentanyl is relatively cheap to buy and it takes only a very small amount to “extend a batch of a much more expensive drug.” He used an example of a dealer having a small amount of heroin that by adding small amounts of Fentanyl, the dealer can sell much more product because the Fentanyl will convince a user they are getting a full dose of heroin.
Broadhead said users of illegal drugs are currently playing a version of “Russian Roulette” with catastrophic results.
Statesboro officers have been carrying Naloxone, a drug used to counter the effects of opioid drugs, for the past few years.
“But if they cannot locate the overdose in a timely manner, it cannot be used effectively,” Broadhead said. “Georgia law allows for people to have immunity from arrest or prosecution if they call for emergency help for someone suffering an overdose.”
Broadhead said the department is looking at creating a laminated card with contact information for addiction and recovery treatment that is available locally. Statesboro police personnel would give the cards to people they believe need help with addiction or who are arrested.
“Drug addiction is a health problem,” he said. “And just like a health problem, it can take awhile to heal and to get healthy. They work, but you have to be committed to them and put in the work.”
Broadhead said local “peer programs where other recovering addicts are helping new recovering addicts get through their particular program” are showing real progress.
“My connection locally is with Freedom Through Recovery,” he said. “Those ladies are doing tremendous work. They are really strong. They are in recovery themselves and they get it in a way that is proving to be a successful treatment.”
Broadhead said addiction is a problem that needs health related solutions to fix.
“It’s really easy for many of us to sit in judgment of people with a drug addiction because we think they are just making bad choices,” he said. “And at some point, they did make bad choices. But, also at some point, these chemical addictions take over and that’s why addicts need so much help and they struggle so much. It’s not just something they can just say ‘today I’m going to be strong and I’m not going to use.’ They need help to get that strength.”