Ohio officials warn of dangers of fentanyl-laced heroin

An especially potent batch of heroin mixed with fentanyl killed two men in the last week; officials said six of the seven drug overdose deaths in the county this year involved fentanyl

By Holly Zachariah
The Columbus Dispatch

CHILLICOTHE, Ohio — Ross County Health Commissioner Dr. Timothy Angel sent a clear message to his community Friday: “If you take this drug that’s on the street right now, you are going to die.”

He was referring to an especially potent batch of heroin — one mixed with the powerful synthetic narcotic fentanyl — that is being blamed for the death of two men Thursday.

“This drug floating around will kill you, and it is almost instantaneous,” Angel said. “Nothing can save you.”

Ross County Sheriff George Lavender said he recognizes that not everyone is sympathetic to drug users, but he didn’t hesitate when deciding to quickly get the word out about this tainted batch.

“When I took my oath of office, I raised my hand before God and promised to save lives, and I’ll do whatever it takes to do that,” he said.

Alex Storer, 30, and 25-year-old Bradley Ramsey were found dead by Ramsey’s grandmother in an upstairs bedroom of her home on Zickafoose Lane in the Pleasant Valley area about 2 p.m. Thursday.

Lavender said there was plenty of drug paraphernalia around to show they had just injected heroin.

Prior to Thursday, Ross County already had seven unintentional drug overdose deaths this year, and six of them involved fentanyl. Other cases are still pending toxicology reports so that number could grow, said Mike Ratliff, chief investigator at the Ross County coroner’s office.

Fentanyl is a growing problem around the country. It is up to 50 times more powerful than heroin and can sometimes kill on its own, but is especially deadly when mixed.

Angel said that some users don’t even realize the heroin they have bought is laced. Other times, addicts seek it out because they think they can handle its powerful high.

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control specific to Ohio’s fentanyl-overdose deaths made several recommendations, including focusing prevention efforts in the hardest-hit counties (neither Ross nor Franklin was among them) and targeting the most at-risk populations.

The Ohio Department of Health says that fentanyl-related deaths rose from 84 statewide in 2013 to 502 in 2014, the last year for which complete numbers were available. March and April were the months that saw the most such deaths, and the majority of those who die are white men. The average age is 38.

In Ross County, Lavender said law enforcement and treatment officials will soon begin an intervention program, one where teams will visit those who are known to have recently been administered a life-saving dose of naloxone, an opiate antidote that is available at some drugstores now without a prescription and which many police and paramedics carry in their vehicles.

“We have to do something new,” Lavender said. “We’ve got to go back and touch these people and say to them, “Keep this up and you are going to die.”

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