2023 child Fentanyl deaths reach record high in North Carolina

Data from the North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force indicates nearly three dozen children under the age of 17 died from fentanyl in 2022.

Nearly three dozen North Carolina children died from fentanyl in 2022, marking another record high in childhood deaths from the deadly substance.

Ten children under 6 years old and 25 teenagers between 13 and 17 years old died from the drug, according to data presented to the unintentional death prevention committee of the North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force on Thursday. The task force didn’t present data on children between 6 and 12.

In 2021, 11 young children and 14 teens died from fentanyl. In 2015, it was one for teens.

“We have a problem,” said Michelle Aurelius, the chief medical examiner for the North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. “It is reflected not only nationally, but here in North Carolina. We’re in trouble.”

In 2022, there were 4,243 suspected overdose deaths in North Carolina, according to the North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. In 2023, through November, there were 3,853 suspected overdose deaths.

Deaths among adolescents often stem from them choosing to take drugs, including fentanyl.

“A lot of these adolescents do know they are using fentanyl,” said Sandra Bishop-Freeman, the chief toxicologist for the North Carolina Office of the Medical Examiner. “Sometimes even using it with older family members and caregivers.”

The toddlers are often exposed to fentanyl indirectly.

“We talk about safe storage for guns,” Aurelius said, “let’s talk about safe storage for drugs.”

She added: “We need safe storage, not just for the drugs, for the drug paraphernalia and for the residual powder. …. It’s even about the plastic baggie where the person with the substance use disorder doesn’t realize that plastic baggie or that foil left behind because of the potency of fentanyl and the exploratory toddler putting it inside their mouths, that is another preventable death.”

The task force debated steps it could take or proposals it could make to the legislature during Thursday’s meeting.

Tom Jordan, chief of police for the Brevard Police Department, said there should be penalties for negligent parents or caregivers who expose young children to fentanyl that leads to death.

“We’re willing to hold dealers accountable for dealing drugs that lead to someone’s overdose,” Jordan said. “We should also be holding people accountable when children are exposed to it and unfortunately having these child fatalities as well.”

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