More young adults overdosing on fentanyl in York County - | WBTV Charlotte

More young adults overdosing on fentanyl in York County

(Kristi O'Connor | WBTV) (Kristi O'Connor | WBTV)

So far this year, there have been 14 opioid overdose deaths in York County, five of which were caused by fentanyl, a dangerous drug that can be 100 times more potent than morphine and heroin.

But why are so many people overdosing from it without even knowing they are taking it?

"Right now the biggest growth in this area is in young adults," Elizabeth McNeely with Keystone Substance Abuse Treatment Services said.

While fentanyl is a prescription drug, McNeely says it is being made and used illegally in various forms. Many times it comes in a white powder, similar to heroin.

"Young adults believe they are buying heroin, but because they are so similar in appearance they are actually getting fentanyl,” McNeely said. “And because of the difference in potency, they are overdosing."

The misconception is becoming dangerous to law enforcement as well.

Cynthia Mitchum, the York County Sheriff's Office Senior Forensic Drug Chemist, says within the last six months they have been seeing more fentanyl than ever before.

Much like the users buying it off the street, the chemists do not know what they are dealing with just by looking at it.

"May have an idea what it might be, but we wouldn't know for sure until we analyze it," Mitchum said.

Since the drug is often in powder form or mixed with other powdered drugs, Mitchum says sometimes it will become airborne, and the chemists or officers could inhale it.

In addition to gloves, now they are wearing masks, goggles, lab coats, and sometimes hoods to protect themselves. She says they also have Narcan in the office, which is a product that can reverse an opioid overdose.

However, drug experts say because the potency of fentanyl is so much higher than other opioids, multiple doses of Narcan may have to be administered to reverse a fentanyl overdose.

Because fentanyl and other opioids are becoming more common among York County's youth, Keystone Substance Abuse Treatment Services opened a youth center last November to help 18 to 24 year-olds combat addiction.

McNeely says it is an intensive outpatient program for young adults that incorporates group therapy, recovery management, and peer support services. They can also offer medicated assisted treatment.

She says since the November launch, the program has taken off. They originally saw one or two patients, and now see more than a dozen young adults a day.

"We are trying to put them all together as they also try to address just normal young adult issues of independence, healthcare, insurance coverage, and things like that," McNeely said.

If you are interested in the program or any other Keystone services you can visit or call 803-324-1808.

McNeely says they also offer free Narcan for family members to have in the house in the event of an opioid overdose.

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