Local fentanyl deaths, overdoses are still rare

SUBLETTE COUNTY – As the Governor’s Office and state agencies see more problems with fentanyl overdoses across Wyoming, the situation in Sublette County appears to be almost nil.

Despite that, the county is prepared to respond to an opioid emergency.

This week, Gov. Mark Gordon urged awareness of the dangers of the painkilling fentanyl for the public, law enforcement and first responders, who are seeing noticeable increases in overdoses and deaths around the state over the past two years.

In 2019, Wyoming had 17 reported synthetic opioid-induced overdose deaths that jumped to 42 in 2021. For the first several months of this year, 17 deaths were reported, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.

The state health department is applying for the federal State Opioid Response Grant to provide local emergency responders with Naloxone, also known as Narcan, that when applied as a nasal mist quickly reverse opioid overdoses from fentanyl to codeine or other narcotics.

Local sources

In Sublette County, the known number of fentanyl overdose deaths is zero for as long as they can remember, according to Sheriff KC Lehr and Sublette Emergency Medical Services manager Bill Kluck.

In fact, only one criminal arrest after a traffic stop revealed the presence of fentanyl and that was in pill form, Sheriff Lehr said.

“I am not aware of any fentanyl overdoses in Sublette County,” he said. “We created a policy and to date have received a handful of Naloxone kits. Currently, our two drug task force deputies carry naloxone, as well as our drug K-9 unit. The jail also has a few naloxone kits on hand. We have yet to use it.”

Lehr cited the potential dangers of fentanyl poisoning to first responders.

“It is definitely a concern to first responders as it takes very little (which can even be airborne) to render an individual unconscious and stop their breathing,” Lehr said. .

“We have been coordinating with the Wyoming Department of Health to obtain Naloxone nasal spray as well as training for all of our deputies (patrol and detention),” Lehr said.

Kluck said Sublette EMS is prepared to handle it although use of Naloxone here to reverse dangerous opioid contact has been practically nonexistent.

All six Sublette EMS ambulances carry Naloxone and staff are trained to use it, Kluck said.

“We don’t really see the use here,” he said. “It’s very rarely that we do use it.”

Naloxone also works to reverse other opioids’ effects and might be used if an EMT encounters an unconscious person who isn’t responding to any other lifesaving treatments. Although it hasn’t been used often at all, “you can’t predict when you would need it.”

He cautioned against people coming into contact with fentanyl and particularly car-fentanyl, which enhances the opioid effects many times over.

Lehr did the same – “Likewise, it is extremely dangerous to drug users as illicit drugs are being laced with it.”

Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) data show that the number of fentanyl cases among all Wyoming law-enforcement agencies more than doubled between 2019 and 2021, rising from 15 to 38. Since 2020, there has been a 200-percent increase in the number of items containing suspected fentanyl analyzed by the State Crime Lab.

Gov. Gordon called for more community awareness about the growing statewide problem. “It’s going to take a coordinated approach to tackle this issue. I am asking residents to educate themselves and understand how lethal and pervasive this drug is.”

He blamed the Biden Administration for not addressing the illegal drugs crossing the southern border.

For more information about fentanyl, visit the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Wyoming Department of Health.


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