Dangerous Drug Combo Becoming More Common In Jacksonville

By Kelly Burch 03/22/18

A local opioid program reports that fentanyl and cocaine show up in patients' systems more than any other drug.

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An opioid pilot program in Jacksonville has noticed an increase of a concerning drug combination: cocaine and fentanyl. 

Fentanyl-laced cocaine increases the risk of opioid overdose for drug users who may not know what substances they’re putting into their bodies. 

“People are waking up (after) being reversed from a fentanyl overdose saying, 'I don’t use fentanyl. I only use cocaine,'” Dr. Raymond Pomm, creator of Project Save Lives, an opioid program at St. Vincent's hospital in Jacksonville, Florida. 

Speaking to News4Jax, Pomm said that urine sampling has shown that patients in the program have fentanyl and cocaine in their systems more than any other drug. Because cocaine users might not realize that they are using an opioid and haven’t built up an opioid tolerance, they’re vulnerable to overdose.

News4Jax found that people in the area have already died from this combination of drugs. 

“So what is happening now is we are going to see a change in demographic and, unfortunately, innocent people who are using cocaine are going to start—and have been potentially—overdosing and dying,” he said. 

Pomm pointed out that if fentanyl is being mixed into the cocaine supply, it could affect who is dying from opioid overdoses. While most opioid overdose victims are white, cocaine continues to be the primary drug abused in African-American communities, he noted. Even without the addition of fentanyl, cocaine claims lives. 

"In the most recent years studied, 2012 to 2015, cocaine overdose deaths were almost as common in black men as prescription opioid deaths in white men and slightly more common in black women than deaths from heroin overdose in white women," Meredith Shiels, who studied cocaine overdose rates among African Americans, told CNN.

Pomm said that if cocaine is being laced with fentanyl, there will likely be more deaths from opioid overdoses in the black community. 

“Typically fentanyl has been a Caucasian drug, and typically cocaine is found in the African-American community,” he said. “We don’t really find a lot of African-Americans using opioids.”

But as it turns out, opioid use is a major problem in the black community and has been for quite sometime, though the epidemic has been framed as one that affects mainly white people. The number of African Americans who have fallen victim to the opioid epidemic is on an unfortunate rise.

In 2016, African Americans accounted for nearly 39% of opioid-related deaths in Chicago, while white Americans accounted for 25%. 

Last December, the New York Times reported that "drug deaths among blacks in urban counties rose by 41% in 2016, far outpacing any other racial or ethnic group."

Richard Preston, who formerly battled addiction, told News4Jax that cocaine use often starts more casually than opioid addiction. 

“The casual user typically will go to a party and they will have a few drinks or cocktails and it lets the inhibitions down,” he said. “And they will take that cocaine kind of how I got started. That start might be your finish.”

Although authorities are warning about the dangers of fentanyl-laced cocaine, there is also some debate over whether drug users are intentionally mixing cocaine and fentanyl in a combination known as a speedball. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

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