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DOJ: Drug Overdoses, Leading Cause Of Death

FORT SMITH (KFSM) -- According to the Department of Justice, drug overdose is now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50.

In 2015, 1,000 people died every week from drug overdoses nationwide. More than half of those deaths were from opioid drugs.

"That's what's sad about this is people may be prescribed to this by a doctor," Cpt. Jamie Hammond, narcotics division, Fort Smith Police Department said. "Maybe they've been in a car accident and have it to manage their pain and it's so addicting, next thing you know, they have a drug problem. Because of the potency of it, that's where the problem occurs; they get hooked on it."

Here in our area, emergency responders said they are seeing a constant trend of overdoses, as well.

"Last year, it's been about steady, roughly one a week," Allen Young, Fort Smith EMS director said.

Police said opiods became an issue quickly, Fort Smith police answered more than 70 calls relating to drug overdoses since January of this year.

"The over prescribing of the medicines and we weren't able to catch up with it," Hammond said. "We were so focused on meth and we got laws passed that helped us combat meth production and then in the background, these opioids were getting prescribed and abused and all of a sudden, meth is no longer as big of a problem. Now, it's opioids."

But for emergency responders and police officers, they're using other ways to help fight the high number of overdoses.

"There's a program in Arkansas, a prescription drug monitoring program for law enforcement," Hammond said. "When we notice someone is abusing a prescription, we can check their name through this program and take enforcement action. Tools like that make it more difficult for people to get those pills."

While there are people who need these medicines, others are abusing them.

"A certain patient population that it is beneficial to be on these drugs short-term, but it becomes a problem when it becomes abused or they become addicted," Young said.

Emergency crews also use a drug called Narcan to administer to patients suffering from a drug overdose. The drug reverses the effects of opioids.

For more information or to read the Department of Justice's release, click here.