Wave of Overdoses Hits Ohio Within 24-Hour Period, Fentanyl Suspected

By Paul Gaita 07/08/16

Akron officials believe heroin laced with fentanyl to be responsible for many of the 19 overdoses that occurred earlier this week.

Wave of Overdoses Hits Ohio Within 24-Hour Period, Fentanyl Suspected

Nineteen overdoses, including one fatality, were reported in Ohio’s Summit County between July 5 and 6, leaving police and paramedics overwhelmed and the mayor of Akron declaring that his city had “moved into a public health crisis.” Police suspect that heroin laced with the powerful synthetic pain medication fentanyl may be responsible for some of the overdoses. This has raised the number of suspected heroin overdoses to 323 this year in Akron, of which 55 were fatal. The latter statistics show a 15% increase of overdose deaths from 2015, and underscore the growing threat posed by heroin and fentanyl in both Ohio and the United States as a whole.

First responders in Akron began receiving calls for help in regard to overdoses at 1 p.m. on July 5 and continued to field them until at least 10:30 p.m., the Beacon Journal reported. On average, police and paramedics have responded to two or fewer drug overdose calls per day this year. But on Tuesday, nine women and eight men between 19 and 58 years old were brought to area hospitals. In one case, a mother, her two daughters and a friend all suffered overdoses at the same time, while a man who used heroin while driving in Cuyahoga Falls suffered an overdose and crashed into two vehicles.

At that point, officials reported that 16 people survived, but another individual, a 44-year-old man, died after overdosing. Two more cases were reported on Wednesday, July 6, which brought the total number of cases to 19 in a 24-hour period. Akron Police Chief James Nice stated that his entire narcotics unit had teamed up with officers who specialize in heroin cases to track down where the drugs came from. “We've put about four times as many people working day and night on this because if it is a bad bunch of dope, we want to get a search warrant on that location,” said Nice. Police reported that while it remained unclear if all 19 overdoses resulted from the same batch of drugs, they did note that the overdoses proved more resistant to Narcan. 

Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan called a press conference on Wednesday to provide details on the overdose cases, and to advise any individual who may have recently purchased heroin to take advantage of the city’s assistance programs, which are “here to help” and include free counseling, treatment and needle exchange. “This is a public heath crisis,” said Horrigan. “We cannot arrest our way to sobriety.”

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.