Synthetic opioid overdose deaths: A cause for alarm and action

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Tiffany McLaurin

By Tiffany McLaurin, PhD

Jackson Advocate Guest Writer

The rising rates of deaths because of opioid overdoses is a prevalent social concern within the United States and in the state of Mississippi (CDC, 2022; KFF, 2023). 

Between 1999 and 2020, approximately 565,000 people died as a result of opioid involved overdoses. 

More recently, with increased synthetic (man-made) manufacturing of the drug, the opioid epidemic has worsened as more than 100,000 overdose deaths occurred between 2019 and 2021, of which almost 1/3 were opioid related. 

While most states in the US experienced increases in overdose deaths, the state of Mississippi has seen consistent increases in drug overdose deaths, which increased by 49% and more than doubled for fentanyl related deaths (Mississippi State Department of Health, 2023). 


Synthetic opioid overdose deaths impact every aspect of society including families, communities, criminal justice systems, healthcare providers, and non-profit organizations. And while opioid overdose deaths have impacted every socioeconomic level and every race/ethnicity, people living in poverty and White males are disproportionately the victims of opioid related overdoses. 

In Mississippi, young people (under 35) and African Americans represent growing demographics impacted by overdose deaths.


In the face of this epidemic, public health and criminal justice officials are addressing the unintended consequences of synthetic opioid related overdose deaths. The intersections between drug policies, health care policies, and criminal justice reform are essential in addressing the synthetic opioid overdose death epidemic (CDC, 2023). 

Based on what we know from existing geographic and demographic data, CDC recommendations range from increasing access to treatment to working collaboratively with criminal justice officials in the identification and eradication of the synthetic opioid drug supply chain (CDC, 2023). 

Further recommendations include increasing awareness at the local (schools, community) and global levels, as well as collaborations with public health organizations focused on access to diverse treatment modalities and program funding aiding underserved population addicted to and impacted by opioid drugs. 

At the community level, there is a need for increased awareness regarding the impact of synthetic opioids (largely fentanyl) i.e., how to identify the drug, presence in schools, and its relationship to overdose death rates.

Beyond a rehabilitation focus, law enforcement roles are needed to:

identify and investigate supply and transportation patterns

increase criminal prosecution and sentencing of offenders, and 

forge collaborations with public health organizations, schools, and community.

The rate at which overdose deaths related to synthetic opioids occur requires a continued multi-disciplinary approach examining policies, practices, and reform. At the precipice of change, community members must be informed about the presence and severity of synthetic opioid drugs and the deadly implications.

If you know someone experiencing a public health emergency, please call 601-576-7400.


• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (2022, June 1). The drug overdose epidemic: Behind the numbers. Retrieved May 19, 2023 from

• CDC (2023, March 8). New funding opportunities for states, cities, and territories to strengthen overdose surveillance and prevention efforts. Retrieved May 20, 2023 from URL.

• KFF (2023). Opioid overdose deaths by race/ethnicity. National Center for Health Statistics. Retrieved May 21, 2023 from 

• Mississippi State De-partment of Health (2023, January 3). Opioid and prescription drug abuse. Retrieved May 21, 2023 from,0,382.html

Publisher’s Note: Dr. Tiffany McLaurin is the Coordinator and Instructor in the School of Criminology, Criminal Justice and Public Administration at Tarleton State University in Fort Worth, Texas. She is a member of the Black Criminologists Forum (BCF). BCF is a national association of nearly 70 Black scholars holding a doctorate degree in criminology, criminal justice, juvenile justice, or a related field of study.

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Synthetic opioid overdose deaths: A cause for alarm and action

By Jackson Advocate News Service
May 29, 2023