Jeff Dunn at Rotary

Jeff Dunn shows a sample of NARCAN during his presentation Tuesday to the Greenwood Rotary Club. The nasal spray is used to treat a drug overdose in an emergency situation.

It’s called “dirty dope,” and it’s killing young people in Mississippi, Jeff Dunn warns.

Dunn, director of two drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities for Life Help mental health center, said he has heard just this month that two people in their early 20s have died in the Oxford area, and a third, with connections to Greenwood, is in a coma after using drugs that might have been laced with the extremely powerful painkiller fentanyl.

“They’re picking on our kids,” Dunn said of the illicit drug trade, “and our kids are dying.”

Dunn, who oversees the 44-bed Denton House in Greenwood and the 36-bed Darden Center in Greenville, spoke to the Greenwood Rotary Club Tuesday.

He shared his observations on the drug abuse he sees and the increasingly lethal narcotics that are being manufactured.

He said that most of the drugs in the United States are now coming from Mexico. In order to make them more potent, according to Dunn, the dealers are dusting or spraying them with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is normally used as a palliative for people suffering from end-stage cancer or other terminal illnesses. The appearance of fentanyl in the drug trade has increased the number of fatal overdoses.

“You wouldn’t believe the people who’ve died in Leflore County from some kind of drug laced with fentanyl,” he said.

Much has been reported about COVID-19 increasing alcohol sales, as people cope with the boredom or stress from the pandemic. It has also caused drug trafficking to skyrocket, according to Dunn. The result has been worsening addiction for those who, before the pandemic, had substance abuse problems but could hold down a job and otherwise function.

“It pushed a lot of them over the edge,” Dunn said.

About 60% of the people Life Help treats for drug addiction are hooked on methamphetamine alone or in combination with other drugs, he said.

Meth and its fellow stimulant, cocaine, are the easiest drugs to get out of a person’s system through detoxification but also the toughest habit to break, Dunn said. While it takes the brain on average five months of sobriety to heal significantly from most drugs, with meth it’s more like eight months, he said.

And it’s cheap.

Twenty years ago, a gram of meth — the volume of which Dunn compared to a single sugar packet — cost about $100, the same as cocaine. Before the coronavirus outbreak, the price for meth had dropped to between $20 and $25 per gram. Although the pandemic reduced the supply and pushed the price up to about $70, it’s starting to retreat again, Dunn said.

“Whenever you see that they can get dope that cheap, that simply tells you there’s too much of it.”

• Contact Tim Kalich at 581-7243 or tkalich@gwcommonwealth.com.

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