Authorities intervene in North Carolina fentanyl situation after poisoning of two young children

(WGHP) — Local deaths attributed to fentanyl have increased over the past decade, and mixing fentanyl with illicit drugs is becoming more common.

The synthetic opioid is up to 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin.

The National Center for Fatality Review and Prevention examined more than 1,300 deaths of children ages 1 to 17…and found that 84 percent of them were accidental.

Last week, a toddler in Thomasville accidentally ingested fentanyl and first responders administered naloxone or Narcan to revive him.

Alamance County deputies also revived a toddler this month who ingested fentanyl.

Fentanyl can come in several forms, and officers say they most often see it in the form of pressed pills.

“It’s become a big problem … because of the carnage left behind,” said Capt. Craig Stephens, an investigator with the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office.

Synthetic opioid poisoning is responsible for nearly 15,000 deaths in North Carolina from 2013 to March 2023, according to data from how death certificates are coded in the state.

Guilford County lost 823 people during that period with a high of 188 in 2021. Forsyth County lost 603 people during that period with a high of 150 in 2022.

Alamance County, where Stephens works, lost 226 people with a high of 50 in 2021.

“There have been several cases where… we’ve seen methamphetamine and cocaine cut with fentanyl,” Stephens said.

Fentanyl is so powerful that the amount that fits on the tip of a pencil can be lethal to an adult and is guaranteed to be lethal to a child.

This month was almost deadly for an Alamance County boy.

“Our deputies were able to administer Narcan and provide life-saving aid before paramedics arrived,” Stephens said.

All Alamance County deputies, along with thousands of other law enforcement agencies and even school districts across the country, have Narcan on hand and are ready to use the overdose reversal tool at a moment’s notice.

“I would ensure that most patrol officers have multiple doses in their patrol car,” Stephens said.

When asked if he ever envisioned law enforcement as the first line of defense in the event of an overdose, the veteran investigator paused.

“No… It’s a lot of pressure… A lot of these guys are very strong. “They drink a lot every day and they keep moving,” he stated.

Stephens says there has recently been a downward trend in opioid poisoning deaths, and Stephens says it’s difficult to discern what’s behind this.

Again we’ve seen a decline, and I wish I could say why… Narcan is more available. People are more educated about it,” Stephens said.

Pressed pills, which may look like regular pills, can contain fentanyl, and Stephens says they are seeing more of those pills.