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Cocaine Becoming Deadlier As Fentanyl Expands Reach

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Overdose deaths linked to cocaine are rapidly rising in areas hit hard by the opioid epidemic as the deadly painkiller fentanyl infiltrates broader drug supplies.

Officials with the Ohio Department of Health are asking medical professionals and first responders to start using the opioid overdose reversal drug Narcan for any situation where a person has overdosed on drugs in case fentanyl is involved. Dealers are increasingly cutting the substances into non-opioid drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine, reports Canton Rep.

Fentanyl, a synthetic painkiller roughly 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, is blamed as the primary driver of the addiction crisis and rising overdose deaths. Deaths related to cocaine and fentanyl in Ohio recently jumped by 37 percent, claiming 850 lives in 2017, while deaths related to mixtures of fentanyl and methamphetamine increased by 142 percent.

Authorities fear that because cocaine is more widely used as a social drug than a substance like heroin, many users are unaware of the fatal risks even a small amount of the drug now carries.

“As we see this expansion of fentanyl and fentanyl analogs into the drug supply, the universe of people who might be at risk is much broader,” Christopher Jones, director of the National Mental Health and Substance Abuse Police Laboratory at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, recently told Philly.com. “That’s why you see the really significant spikes in overdose deaths since 2015.”

Fentanyl overtook heroin as the U.S.’s deadliest substance in 2016, claiming 19,413 lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC estimates cocaine-overdose deaths increased from roughly 4,000 in 2009 to more than 6,700 in 2015. Officials predict cocaine-overdose deaths are about to explode in 2017 to nearly 11,000. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein previously warned it takes only 2 milligrams of fentanyl, “the equivalent of a few grains of table salt,” to cause a fatal overdose.

Nationally, drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death for Americans under age 50, killing more than 64,000 people in 2016.

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