Fentanyl overdoses mounting in Ohio

Fentanyl continues to rear its ugly head in Ohio, leading Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine to caution Ohioans about the powerful drug after Prince’s autopsy reveals the artist’s cause of death was “self-administered fentanyl.”

Fentanyl is a potent, synthetic opioid analgesic with a rapid onset and short duration of action.

“We’ve seen what’s coming into the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) Lab, as far as drug submissions from law enforcement around the state, and statistics show how dramatically fentanyl is on the rise in Ohio,” DeWine said. “In 2010, we had only 34 cases of fentanyl and last year we had 1,110 cases. We’re on track this year to surpass 2015 numbers.”

BCI Labs in Ohio (London, Richfield, and Bowling Green) are seeing mostly synthetic (as opposed to prescription) fentanyl, which first appeared in 2013 in Ohio. It’s 30 to 50 times stronger than heroin, according to the National Institute for Drug Abuse. Sometimes it’s cut with other substances, like cocaine or heroin. Heroin is still the number one drug that’s brought to the BCI Lab for testing in criminal cases, however the number of heroin cases overall are declining, while fentanyl case numbers continue to rise.

Ohio coroners are also seeing deadly and startling results from fentanyl’s impact:

In 2014, there were two deaths in Scioto County directly involving heroin and six multiple drug deaths in which heroin was involved. In 2015 there were nine deaths directly involving heroin and five multiple drug deaths which involved heroin.

“I still don’t think we’ve peaked yet,” Scioto County Coroner Dr. Darren Adams told the Daily Times. “I think that we’re still on the uptick. Before it was just the Oxys and all that. But now they’re lacing it with fentanyl and I think that’s what we’re seeing with the uptick.”

On one weekend in April the Portsmouth Police Department issued a warning that 11 people had overdosed, that led the Portsmouth City Health Department to warn citizens that Scioto County was and is experiencing an unusually high amount of overdoses including fatalities, many attributed to fentanyl-laced heroin.

“We’re seeing more overdoses than normal,” Portsmouth Health Commissioner Chris Smith said. “A lot of times it’s a sign of a bad batch of heroin coming in laced with fentanyl and that’s what’s causing a lot of deaths which is why we’re trying to do the Facebook alert. Social media seems to be the best way to alert people.”

DeWine warned residents that fentanyl deaths are mounting.

“This opiate epidemic is the worst I’ve seen in my lifetime,” said DeWine. “We can’t continue to lose three to four people a day to opiate overdoses. Fentanyl is the latest substance to rise to the top of the alarming drug trend in our state.”

DeWine created a Heroin Unit in 2013, which helps local law enforcement agencies with investigations and prosecutions. It also includes Heroin Unit Outreach Specialists who help communities combat the opiate problem. In addition, much training is provided to law enforcement on different topics like how to treat overdose scenes as crime scenes and how to administer the drug naloxone in overdose situations. BCI agents and forensic scientists just sponsored a Fentanyl Investigation and Awareness Training day for law enforcement with the DEA on June 1, 2016.

Eleven cases of overdose occurred in one weekend in Scioto County,

By Frank Lewis

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

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