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More people are overdosing, but not from the drugs you think

Bags of heroin, some laced with fentanyl, picked up in a 2016 New York City drug bust. "Basically, [fentanyl] is so cheap to produce and it's so powerful, that drug dealers began realizing it was a way to increase their profits," <em>Fentanyl, Inc. </em>author Ben Westhoff says. But miscalculations of the amount used can be deadly.
Drew Angerer
Getty Images
These bags of heroin, some laced with fentanyl, were picked up in a 2016 New York City drug bust.

Just one pill can kill.

That was the message emphasized by Dr. Raymond Pomm when he spoke Thursday at a special Jacksonville City Council committee on drug overdoses and mental health.

Overdoses have been on the rise in the past few years, in Jacksonville and throughout the country, despite a significant decrease in opioid prescriptions.

"There has to be an educational push," Pomm said. "They're taking pills that look like opioids; they're taking pills that look like Xanax. It's fentanyl. They're dying from fentanyl."

Pomm works as the chief medical officer for Gateway Community Services, a nonprofit that treats substance abuse. He also works with City Council on Project Save Lives, an initiative to engage overdose victims to prevent relapses and recidivism.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office reported 315 deaths from overdoses this year, as of Wednesday. Last year, 317 people overdosed between Jan. 1 and Nov. 1.

While a majority of those are considered opioid-related, that's due to how the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department reports overdoses. If a patient responds to or is revived by naloxone treatment or a narcan nasal spray, it's considered opioid-related.

That can be misleading, Pomm said. Though fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, many overdoses from the drug are accidental, as victims are unaware of its presence when using other drugs.

"You think you're taking cocaine. Today it could be fentanyl and you're going to die."

Pomm warns Jacksonville residents, particularly young adults, about the dangers of purchasing street products that can be laced with the super-addictive substance.

Adderall, weed, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and even e-liquid for vapes are all substances people have taken that were either laced with or replaced by fentanyl, resulting in a deadly overdose.

Reporter Raymon Troncoso joined WJCT News in June of 2021 after concluding his fellowship with Report For America, where he was embedded with Capitol News Illinois covering Illinois state government with a focus on policy and equity. You can reach him at (904) 358-6319 or and follow him on Twitter @RayTroncoso.