Substance abuse conference focuses on state’s increased fentanyl overdose rates

By: - August 10, 2022 2:45 pm

The state saw a 28.6% increase in fatal overdose from 2019 to 2020, the most recent numbers available. Overdose deaths from people under 25 years doubled in that time. (Nevada Current file photo)

Community experts discussed the impact of fentanyl on Nevada’s opioid epidemic at the third annual Southern Nevada Substance Misuse and Overdose Prevention Summit Wednesday. The conference hopes to break down silos between key providers and implement best practices for budding health concerns in the community. 

“It’s so important that we both learn from other agencies and what they are doing and how we can partner better with them and also learn what is being done in other states and how we can emulate best practices that have shown success elsewhere,” said Jamie Ross, executive director of the PACT (Prevention, Advocacy, Choices, Team Work) Coalition.

The Southern Nevada Health District (SNHD), Nevada’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program and the PACT Coalition collaborated to host the summit focusing on expanding access to harm reduction, the intersection between human trafficking and sexual violence and addiction, removing barriers to treatment, and improving access to services for at-risk populations like pregnant and post-partum people. 

In previous years the conference focused on social determinants of health and health equity, but switched amid the increase in fentanyl deaths in the state. 

Preliminary data from the Southern Nevada Health District shows that the state saw a 28.6% increase in fatal overdose from 2019 to 2020, the most recent numbers available. Overdose deaths from people under 25 years doubled in that time. 

The rates increased at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and while historically in Southern Nevada overdoses tended to be middle-age adults, fentanyl overdoses skewed younger in part because many people are unaware that fentanyl is present in the drugs they’re taking, Ross said. 

In Clark County, deaths increased from 445 in 2019 to 605 in 2020, primarily driven by synthetic opioids like fentanyl, as well as benzodiazepines and cocaine. The deaths involving fentanyl increased from 81 in 2019 to 225 in 2021, according to data provided by SNHD. 

Efforts are underway to build preventive factors like social connection and support for youth, teaching health coping skills for those struggling with mental health, and increasing access to evidence-based treatment options like Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT).

The conference stemmed from the Southern Nevada Opioid Advisory Council, which started in 2016 to help build bridges between local providers, nonprofits and government agencies. 

Jessica Johnson, senior health educator at SNHD, sits on the council as a co-chair alongside Ross.

“[The council] had an opportunity to continue to share and address growing concerns around substance use and overdose and to bring it to light through a summit,” Johnson said. “We’re very lucky to be able to talk about the issues around overdose and substance use that are specific and unique to Southern Nevada.” 

The conference hopes that connecting multiple agencies and organizations like PACT Coalition and SNDH will help address larger systemic issues that Southern Nevada faces in addressing treatment options for substance misuse, including access to affordable safe housing, reliable transportation, and affordable childcare. 

“This is what folks would term as a wicked problem, it has multiple sources as to how it has come to our community, therefore we need a multi-pronged approach,”  Johnson said.

For those interested in learning more about substance misuse and overdose, Southern Nevada Opioid Advisory Council meetings are held quarterly.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Camalot Todd
Camalot Todd

An award-winning, investigative and enterprise reporter, Camalot Todd has over seven years experience in print, digital, radio and TV journalism.