JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi officials are anticipating a record number of opioid deaths statewide in 2017.

The Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics has confirmed 195 deaths from opioid overdoses through the end of October. Based on an average of 19.5 deaths being reported each month, the total could top 234 fatal overdoses at the end of this year, said John Dowdy, the bureau’s director.

A total of 211 opioid deaths were confirmed by the state narcotics bureau last year, The Clarion-Ledger reported .

Dowdy said he fears the 2017 opioid death toll could be far higher — potentially surpassing 300 fatal overdoses in Mississippi once backlogged paperwork comes in confirming more cases long after the year ends.

“We have a lot of counties where the coroners are not reporting overdose deaths,” Dowdy said. “But in the counties where the coroners have consistently year after year reported to us, we’ve seen substantial spikes.”

For example, Hinds County reported six fatal opioid overdoses in 2016. There have been 25 confirmed so far this year.

Harrison County had 13 deaths last year, and so far has 24 in 2017. Jackson and Jones counties both reported no opioid overdose deaths in 2016, but to date both have confirmed six this year.

Rankin County Coroner David Ruth said he’s confirmed eight opioid deaths so far this year — but he’s still awaiting toxicology reports in 21 additional death cases. Last year, Ruth said, the county had 11 deaths.

“We have got to get a sense of urgency about this epidemic,” Dowdy said. “…We have to make sure that people understand this is not a joking matter, it’s a life or death situation.”

Prescription drug abuse in Mississippi has risen 400 percent in the past decade and many teens now say it is easier to acquire prescription drugs than it is to buy beer, according to the Mississippi Department of Mental Health. Its statistics show 486 reported drug overdoses statewide in the past three years. And 394 of those overdoses were opioid related.

An opioid task force appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant has made more than 40 recommendations for stemming opioid abuse in Mississippi ranging from recommending new limitations on painkiller prescriptions to imposing stiffer penalties for drug dealers. Medical licensure boards plan public hearings in coming weeks about adopting some of the task force’s suggestions.


Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com

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