Dealers mixing the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl with cocaine and other non-opioid drugs is causing an increase in overdoses throughout Ohio.
Authorities in Hamilton County, Ohio, issued a warning Saturday over the increased threat of synthetic opioids lurking across drug supplies in Cincinnati and the greater region. Newtown Police Chief Tom Synan, who leads the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition, said mixtures of fentanyl with cocaine and methamphetamine recently caused 36 overdoses over a 72-hour period, reports WCPO Cincinnati.
Fentanyl-linked drug overdoses killed and estimated 324 people in Hamilton County in 2017, up from only 24 in 2013. Officials say more than 90 percent of drugs seized in the county over the first four months of 2018 contained synthetic opioids.
“There’s no doubt that’s taken a chunk out of the overdoses we’re seeing,” said Synan, according to WCPO Cincinnati. “They’re different drugs. … We didn’t anticipate it moving from pills to heroin. We didn’t anticipate it moving from heroin to synthetics. … It’s still probably the number one cause of people overdosing, the number one cause of people dying from those overdoses, so we’ve still got to be on guard.”
Authorities in Ohio recently cracked down on drug dealers trafficking in fentanyl with harsher legal penalties for crimes involving the substance. (RELATED: CDC Warns Of ‘Dramatic Rise’ In Synthetic Opioid Deaths Over 2017)
Republican Gov. John Kasich signed a bill Wednesday that reclassifies fentanyl from a Schedule II to a Schedule I substance and makes it a felony to deal the potent painkiller. Major drug offenders caught selling fentanyl will now face mandatory minimum sentences ranging from between three to eight years in prison.
The bill also prevents charges from being combined, meaning a dealer tied to a fentanyl death would face charges for both the fatality and for the initial sale to the victim.
States across the country are struggling with an influx of fentanyl and other synthetic painkillers into non-opioid drug supplies. Data from the Maryland Department of Health released July 26 shows the number of fatal overdoses in the state hit a record high in 2017, killing 2,282 people.
Officials are particularly concerned with sharp increases in cocaine-related deaths since 2015, fueled by synthetic opioids. Fentanyl was involved in roughly 71 percent of all cocaine fatalities in Maryland in 2017.
The situation is also deteriorating nationally. Cocaine deaths spiked by 52 percent across the U.S. between 2015 and 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, following many years of relatively stable numbers.
Officials estimate the substance is now killing roughly 13,000 Americans each year, up from 6,700 in 2015.
Authorities fear because cocaine is more widely used as a social drug than substances like heroin, many users are unaware of the fatal risks even a small amount of the drug may carry.
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