Overdose deaths are on the rise in Mecklenburg County, police say


Counterfeit prescription pills are claiming a growing number of lives in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, according to a police official.

As of Dec. 20, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department had recorded 199 drug-related deaths this year, a 5% increase over last year’s total of 193. In 2019, the department recorded 154 drug-related deaths.

 Lt. Sean Mitchell, an officer in CMPD’s Special Investigation Bureau, said many of these deaths were the related to casual drug use. 

“There’s this idea in the community that these overdose deaths are (intravenous) drug users, heroin users, but that is far from the truth, ” he told reporters during a press conference Tuesday.

Counterfeit pills laced with high levels of fentanyl have been the biggest culprit, Mitchell said. (The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration describes fentanyl as a synthetic opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than morphine.)

Why it matters: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 841,000 people in the United States have died from drug overdose since 1999. More than 70% of those deaths involved opioids

Mary Ward, president of the McLeod Addictive Disease Center in Charlotte, said she is seeing the rise in overdose deaths in her own facilities.

At the CMPD press conference, Ward told the story of a patients who lost consciousness after smoking marijuana. People who were around called 911 and Medic reversed the overdose with Narcan, she said.  

“This is a call to action. What people are purchasing on the streets is not what you think it is,” she said.

To combat the growing problem, CMPD has begun printing QR codes on the back of officers’ business cards to connect residents to drug counseling and rehabilitation centers.

Mitchell said a lack of staff has limited the department’s ability to crack down on the sale of dangerous drugs.

“I think that there is some frustration that we could do a better job if we had more resources,” he said, adding, “​​If anyone in the community knows anyone that is dealing drugs, I encourage you to call crime stoppers.


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