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KFOX14 Investigates: Local increase in overdose deaths, opioid use

Drugs

KFOX14 Investigates finds more El Pasoans are dying from overdoses and drug-related deaths, than ever before.

There is an increase in opioid use,” said Elizabeth Prieto, a community outreach worker with Aliviane, a nonprofit specializing in drug prevention, intervention treatment and recovery.

The organization gives out Narcan dispensers to heroin users in the El Paso community, which reverses the effects of an overdose.

“(It's) to be able to save lives,” said Preito.

In the community they’ve seen an increase in opioid use, specifically heroin.

“It is everywhere,” said Preito.

KFOX14Investigates obtained medical examiner records, showing a steady increase in the number of people dying due to drugs in the last five years.

2012 61

2013 72

2014 82

2015 68

2016 91

2017 103

This only gives a snapshot because it’s based on deaths where an autopsy was performed.

“What stood out was the number of those that have overdosed as a result of opioid consumption. The second was cocaine along with alcohol consumption,” said Guillermo Valenzuela, the community affairs officer for Aliviane.

Heroin was found involved in 20 of the deaths last year.

Overall, more than 90 variations of opioids were found in autopsies conducted last year.

Prescription drugs contributed to a majority of the deaths.

“Alcohol and prescription drugs pose an incredible threat to your safety,” said Valenzuela.

At Aliviane, Valenzuela said the number of people seeking treatment is steadily rising.

“We have seen an increase with heroin and prescription drugs,” said Valenzuela.

But he said, numbers don't paint the full picture when it comes to opioid overdose deaths in El Paso.

“There is underreporting,” he said.

Looking at a map of the United Sates, El Paso doesn't stand out as a community with a dire opioid epidemic, while surrounded by New Mexico's crisis and Ciudad Juarez which is one of the largest heroin-using cities in Mexico.

Underreporting can happen a variety of ways.

Most often, Valenzuela said, a user may die at a hospital from complications related to drug users, like a heart condition. But drug tests are never performed.

Plus, family members have to request an autopsy.

Additionally, “The synthetic opiates might be in your system but the medical provider might not have the right tests to detect that,” said Valenzuela.

Valenzuela said the increase in deaths shows not only an increase in usage, but also an increase in the potency of the drugs on the streets now.

“(They) continue to be more dangerous and more risky,” said Valenzuela.

He said fentanyl is 100 times stronger than heroin, records obtained by KFOX14 Investigates found fentanyl was detected in 12 of the 103 drug deaths last year

“We have many reports (that) people come through our doors are reporting they are lacing the heroin with fentanyl,” said Valenzuela.

Drug dealers are lacing the heroin with fentanyl in order to keep users addicted.

Valenzuela added, they've seen cases of children as young as 9 years old using drugs.

So, early prevention and education is key.

“Nobody wakes up one day and says, ‘I want to become an opiate addict,’” said Valenzuela.

But for those already addicted, Aliviane is offering resources like Narcan and fentanyl testing strips to try and reduce overdose deaths. Plus they offer treatment.

“People who want to recover from addiction, there is hope,” said Valenzuela.

If you or a loved one needs help, call 915-782-4000 or email info@aliviane.org

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