(WHNT) — It’s no secret opioids are fueling a growing epidemic across the country.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 106,699 people died from drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2021.

The crisis is happening in Alabama as well.

The WHNT News 19 team set out to take a closer look at how opioids are fueling a growing epidemic right here in our communities.

We spoke with Jim Wahlberg, brother to Mark and Donnie Wahlberg. Jim began his struggle with substance use before he turned 12.

He had a difficult time growing up. Jim landed in the custody of the state as a teen and, later, in prison twice.

Now, he heads up the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation, using his experience and his platform to battle the opioid epidemic.

It’s important to note that the state of Alabama has not finalized overdose death statistics for 2020 and 2021 yet.

However, more than 15,000 people were admitted to the emergency room for drug overdoses in Alabama in 2021.

Emergency medical services (EMS) responses to probable drug overdoses in Alabama have been going up by more than 1,000 each year over the past few years, with more than 10,400 reported in 2021.

However, more than 15,000 people were admitted into the emergency room for drug overdoses in Alabama in 2021.

Emergency medical services (EMS) responses to probable drug overdoses in Alabama have been going up by more than 1,000 each year over the past few years, with more than 10,400 reported in 2021.

However, it’s so important to remember, these are not just numbers.

They’re real people: moms, dads, sons, daughters, friends, neighbors, co-workers.

Addiction does not discriminate.

At just 23 years old, Dylan Stogner lost his life to an overdose. News 19’s Kayla Smith sat down with Dylan’s family as they shared his story, and the hope they have for others who are supporting loved ones in similar situations.

Influx of Fentanyl

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) says the influx of fentanyl has changed the landscape of this epidemic in the Tennessee Valley.

“Fentanyl is the deadliest crisis that this country has ever seen when it comes to drugs,” explained Towanda Thorne-James, the assistant special agent in charge with the Birmingham district office of the DEA. “It’s important that we get the message out that one pill can kill.”

The DEA explains that fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid. While it is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use as a pain reliever and anesthetic, it is around 100 times more powerful than morphine.

DEA agents say fentanyl has been sold alone or with heroin and other substances and has also been identified in fake pills, mimicking pharmaceuticals like oxycodone.

The number of individual pills containing illicit fentanyl seized by law enforcement went up dramatically between January 2018 and December 2021. That’s according to a study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence. In 2018, law enforcement found a little over 290,000 pills with fentanyl. By 2021, that number had gone up by more than 3,000% to more than 9,600,000.

Use and Availability of Narcan

One effort to stop a rising number of deadly overdoses involving fentanyl is the distribution of naloxone, known by the brand name of Narcan.

Narcan is an opioid overdose reversal agent, and it’s now more widely available to everyone.

If you or someone you know is at risk for an opioid overdose, you can keep this nasal spray on hand.

It can temporarily reverse the effects of an overdose until medical help arrives.

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It’s needle-free, ready to use, and can be administered by friends and caregivers.

Preston Lamb was barely a teenager when he discovered drugs.

He viewed getting high as a way to rebel against his parents and his environment, after his family moved from the US to Europe, but his life began to unravel.

News 19’s Archie Snowden shows us how defining an addiction is tricky, but knowing how to control it in the face of a dangerous and powerful drug, is even harder.

The Jefferson County, Alabama Department of Health offers free, online naloxone (Narcan) training for anyone in Alabama who is worried a loved one or community member is at risk for overdosing on opioids and for anyone who works with populations at risk. All that is required to participate in the training is a phone number or email address. Once the training is complete, you will receive a free naloxone kit containing the medication and training on how to recognize and reverse an opioid overdose.

For information on how to access Narcan for free in Tennessee, click here.

Recovery Resources

The DEA has a webpage with a list of recovery resources.

Not One More Alabama is a nonprofit organization that aims to provide support for those struggling with addiction, educate the community about drugs and addiction and inspire young people to stay drug-free.

Deke Damson is on the board of directors and has struggled with opioid addiction.

The organization’s website has links to a lot of resources, including treatment programs, parent and caregiver resources and financial help for addiction treatment.

The Recovery Organization of Support Specialists (ROSS) provides recovery support for those struggling with substance use and/or addiction.

ROSS has a free, 24/7 helpline: 1 (844) 307-1760.

You can also chat with ROSS live on the internet by clicking here.

The Alabama Department of Mental Health (ADMH) regulates Alabama’s public substance use services delivery system. It does not operate substance use disorder programs, but ADMH does contract with community-based entities to offer outpatient and residential services throughout the state.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

SAMHSA operates a free, confidential, 24/7 helpline and treatment referral service in English and Spanish. The helpline is for those facing mental and/or substance use disorders. According to SAMHSA, the helpline can provide referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations. Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

SAMHSA also provides an opioid overdose prevention toolkit for healthcare providers, communities and local governments for to help them develop practices and policies to help prevent opioid-related overdoses and deaths.

The U.S. government also has an online treatment locator.

News 19’s Greg Screws interviewed a licensed mental health therapist to find out how to talk to children about opioids.

Addiction Prevention

The DEA hosts massive events twice a year to get illegal drugs off the streets and out of homes.

The “National Prescription Drug Take Back Days” happen in April and October.

It’s a chance for people to get rid of the unused, leftover prescription medications they have in their homes.

Experts say getting rid of these properly can prevent medication misuse and opioid addiction from starting.

They’ve gotten more than 16,600,000 pounds of unneeded medications off the streets.

The next drug take-back day is April 22, 2023.

For info on where you can drop off unused medication that day or any time, click here.