Fentanyl Causes Overdose Death Rates to Skyrocket in Ohio

By Paul Fuhr 04/03/18

Many drug users are likely unaware that they’re taking fentanyl in the first place, according to the Associated Press.

two hooded men in the middle of a drug deal

Opioid-ravaged Ohio is getting hit even harder with drug overdose deaths, according to the Associated Press.

In a state where there isn’t enough morgue space for the number of incoming bodies (most of them due to opioid overdoses), Ohio authorities are now struggling with deadly mixtures of methamphetamine, cocaine and fentanyl.

Sadly, the U.S. is no stranger to fentanyl. The synthetic opioid, said to be up to 50 times more powerful than heroin, has routinely made headlines in recent years—especially in the high-profile deaths of rockers Tom Petty and Prince.

“U.S. authorities say illicit fentanyl made in China has flooded in while there is increased availability of meth and a rebound in cocaine,” the AP reported. “All have been contributing to the national rises in overdose deaths and are increasingly being seen in lethal mixes.”

What’s worse, the AP added, is that many drug users are likely unaware that they’re taking fentanyl in the first place.

Adding fentanyl to the mix is like throwing gasoline onto a raging fire, Butler County coroner Dr. Lisa Mannix told the AP.

The spread of fentanyl and an increase in meth use “have turned an already bad situation into something far worse,” she said.

For the fifth year in a row, Butler County (located in southwestern Ohio) announced a record overdose toll: 232 deaths, up 21% over 2016. Meth-related deaths quadrupled in 2017 too, while cocaine-related deaths doubled between 2012 and 2017. And there’s no sign of the overdoses slowing down, either.

Mannix, for one, observed that the meth and cocaine deaths mainly involved fentanyl. “It shows the ebb and flow of drugs,” said Newtown Police Chief Tom Synan. “They fade out and come back with dealers always trying to find ways to make it more potent, more addictive.”

Fentanyl-mixed drug overdoses continue to soar statewide, with major cities like Columbus and Cleveland both seeing significant spikes in deaths. Combining opioids and stimulants isn’t anything new, but the introduction of fentanyl sets a far deadlier stage for drug use.

"Today it is more lethal than it ever was, because now many times it does have this fentanyl mixed in, so it's really a new concoction," Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said. "People don't really know how potent it is.”

In 2016 alone, Ohio had the second-highest number of drug-related deaths per capita in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That year, out of 63,600 overdose deaths nationwide, Ohio ranked just below West Virginia with 4,329 deaths.

Numbers for 2017 are forthcoming, but the forecast appears predictably grim: “Preliminary CDC estimates showed a 36% rise in Ohio deaths in the 12-month period ending August 2017,” the AP reported.

Even if the nation manages to get fentanyl under control, one sheriff believes that the cycle will only continue: “As soon as we come up with a program and we try to work on one drug, then another drug comes up.”

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Paul Fuhr lives in Columbus, Ohio with his family and two cats, Vesper and Dr. No. He's written for AfterParty MagazineThe Literary Review and The Live Oak Review, among others. He's also the host of "Drop the Needle," a podcast about music and addiction recovery. More at paulfuhr.com. You can also find Paul on Linkedin and Twitter.