Centers for Disease Control officials visit Portsmouth to discuss fentanyl

By Frank Lewis

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There is a drug you may not be familiar with, but to the professionals who are attempting to get a handle on the drug problem in our region, that drug is taking center stage. The drug is Fentanyl.

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opiate analgesic similar to but more potent than morphine. It is typically used to treat patients with severe pain, or to manage pain after surgery. It is also sometimes used to treat people with chronic pain who are physically tolerant to opiates. It is a schedule II prescription drug. It is the new presence of it on the streets of the city that brought the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to the city of Portsmouth on Thursday.

“They (CDC) are here today interviewing different community members about the drug overdose issue mostly related to the fentanyl overdoses,” Portsmouth Health Commissioner Chris Smith said. “Fentanyl is an additive they can add to heroin or it can be used straight, but there has been a rash of fentanyl overdoses nationwide, but specifically in Ohio.”

Smith said the CDC, invited by the state is in the process of traveling around the state interviewing people in different communities.

“They’ve (CDC) got a lot of the quantitative data but they are trying to take the opportunity to get qualitative data,” Smith said. “They’re taking the opportunity to interview law enforcement, public health officials, people from the treatment centers to try to find the story of what has been going on in our community and looking for some insights into how to better prevent overdose deaths.”

Smith said the Scioto County community has worked very hard to combat the incidence of overdoses. Specifically Project Dawn, which deals with the use of naloxone, has been a tool officials have utilized to attempt to gain a foothold on the overdose problem. “That’s the nasal spray that reverses an opiate overdose,” Smith said.

Naloxone reverses the effects of opioids on the brain and can limit or stop an overdose when given to an individual overdosing on heroin or a prescription opioid.

One of the people on the front lines of the battle is Marissa Wicker, Injury Prevention Coordinator.

“Our injury area that we focus on is drug overdose,” Wicker said. “My area is to prevent drug overdose through CDC strategies, Ohio Department of Health (ODH), they kind of guide us in the direction to go. One of those areas is providing naloxone. So I really try to get Naloxone out into the community to community members as well as law enforcement and to businesses, whoever is willing to accept Naloxone.”

Probably no one in the community has worked closer with the drug overdose problem that Portsmouth City Health Department nurse Lisa Roberts.

“Ohio had a 500 percent increase in fentanyl-related deaths in just one year,” Roberts said. “So they (CDC) gave gone to different geographic areas, but they are particularly interested in Portsmouth and Scioto County because we have had this almost 100 percent transition from prescription opioids, which set the stage, for and to heroin addiction. Along with that, we have had an increase in overdoses.”

Roberts said officials are trying to find out what type of fentanyl is causing overdoses and whether or not it is coming in in the form of powder in which users believe they are using heroin.

Roberts said members of the Southern Ohio Drug Task Force, Scioto County Sheriff’s Department and Portsmouth Police officials, such as Chief Robert Ware were being interviewed by CDC officials on Thursday.

“We’ve consistently had a serious problem with overdoses,” Smith said. “There was a rash of overdoses in March, that was specifically related to Fentanyl.”

Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.