Mixtures of cocaine and the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl are causing a spike in drug overdoses across Ohio, prompting recent warnings from local health officials.
The combination of cocaine and opioids, known as a “speedball,” became prevalent in the 1980s when dealers introduced heroin into cocaine supplies. Dr. Mark Hurst, medical director for the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, warned Wednesday that speedballs of cocaine and the synthetic opioid fentanyl are causing overdose deaths to spike throughout the state, reported WKSU radio station.
The combination is even deadlier than the speedball mixtures of past decades that claimed the lives of comedy legend John Belushi and actor River Phoenix, Hurst noted.
“The potency of fentanyl is 50 times that of heroin and so it’s even more lethal in a dose than heroin would be,” Hurst told WKSU.
The Ohio Department of Health recently asked 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.
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.
Opioids are killing a record number of people in Ohio, which now has the second highest death rate from drug overdoses in the U.S. behind only West Virginia.
The state lost 4,329 residents to drug overdoses in 2016, a 24 percent increase over 2015, due to a massive influx of fentanyl. Nearly 40 per 100,000 people now die from drug-related overdoses in Ohio.
Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death for Americans under age 50, claiming more than 64,000 lives in 2016.
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