Laced Opioids Are Confusing Coroners And Health Experts

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Eric Lieberman Managing Editor
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Many medical examiners in Ohio are having difficulty conducting accurate autopsies for overdose victims because opioids are laced with so many different foreign ingredients.

Modern day drug screens, for the most part, do not have the capacity to identify the individual substances. Even when all signs point to an overdose, nothing shows up on drug screens, according to STAT News.

“We have to go back to the drawing board and say, ‘What is this that’s making this person overdose?'” Dr. Thomas Gilson, the medical examiner in Cuyahoga County, told STAT News.

Coroners help grieving families know what precisely killed their loved ones, but pinpointing the cause is not always easy due to the concoction of chemicals in opioids these days. Many times the diagnosis is merely deemed an overdose, but “no one has any idea what level would cause someone to die,” Robert Topmiller, a Hamilton County toxicologist, told STAT.

Carfentanil, for example, was originally created for the purpose of tranquilizing extra heavy animals like elephants, but is now found in many samples of confiscated narcotics. Carfentanil is a synthetic opioid as small as a grain of salt, but 100 times as potent as fentanyl and 10,000 times more powerful than the painkiller morphine. Fentanyl is roughly 100 times as powerful as heroin, according to STAT News.

Not being able to comprehensively study what exactly causes these deaths, aside from ruling it in general as an overdose, limits people’s ability to stymie the crisis. Knowing the exact components of the substance, whether it was heroin or some other drug, can help health officials improve treatment programs. It can also help law enforcement trace back to a source by detecting similarities.

“There are so many variables here and there’s so much information that we don’t get that it’s really hard to evaluate scientifically what’s significant and what isn’t,” Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco, the coroner in Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati, told STAT News. (RELATED: DEA Calls For Huge Cut In Opioid Production Due To Ongoing Epidemic)

The opioid abuse epidemic has gotten so bad in America, especially states like Ohio, that the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy came up with unconventional tactics, like needle exchange programs.

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