Fentanyl-Laced Cocaine Is Killing Unsuspecting Users In Droves

REUTERS/Enrique Castro-Mendivil

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Overdose deaths from cocaine are skyrocketing in states ravaged by the opioid epidemic as dealers increasingly cut fatal painkillers into drug supplies.

Officials in Ohio, where more than 4,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2016, are sounding the alarm on the growing threat from cocaine. Andrea Boxill, deputy director of the Governor’s Cabinet Opiate Action Team, warned Monday that overdose deaths involving cocaine cut with fentanyl are rapidly increasing, killing unsuspecting users, reports WKSU.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid roughly 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, is blamed as the primary driver of the current opioid crisis. The deadly substance is now increasingly cropping up in cocaine supplies in a number of states, sending death rates soaring.

Officials estimate that cocaine, mixed mainly with fentanyl, accounted for more than 1,000 of the drug overdose deaths in Ohio last year. In Florida, cocaine related deaths surged 57 percent over figures in 2015, claiming 2,882 lives. Scientists with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) recently announced they detected fentanyl in cocaine supplies for the first time.

Since cocaine is largely considered a social drug, officials fear users are largely unaware of the potential risks of fentanyl overdose when using the substance.

“Anytime you use an illicit drug, there’s really no safety valve,” Boxill told WKSU. “It’s not as if you have the FDA monitoring and regulating cocaine and its potency. So, using substances illegally, you’re always taking a chance.”

Fentanyl overtook heroin as the deadliest substance in the U.S. in 2016. Synthetic opioids, including fentanyl and its analogs, claimed roughly 20,100 lives in 2016, up from 9,945.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates cocaine overdose deaths increased from roughly 4,000 in 2009 to more than 6,700 in 2015. Officials say cocaine overdose deaths are about to explode in 2017 to nearly 11,000.

The Drug Enforcement Administration issued new guidance to police departments across the country in June on how to handle heroin and other narcotics due to the increasing prevalence of fentanyl. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein warned it only takes two milligrams of fentanyl, “the equivalent of a few grains of table salt,” to cause a fatal overdose.

The National Center for Health Statistics, part of the CDC, released its first preliminary report in August giving an accounting of drug overdose deaths in 2016. The CDC estimates that drug deaths rose by more than 22 percent in 2016, with 64,070 Americans suffering a fatal overdose that year, driven primarily by fentanyl.

Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death for Americans under 50.

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