Authorities blame increase in fatal overdoses in Ohio county on fentanyl mix
Tests to determine which drugs contributed to a fatal overdose can take months, but a preliminary examination points to fentanyl
By Patrick Cooley
The Columbus Dispatch
FRANKLIN COUNTY, Ohio — Authorities are blaming a recent spike in overdose deaths in Franklin County on the powerful prescription painkiller fentanyl, which they say is increasingly mixed with other illegal drugs such as cocaine and marijuana.
Tests to determine which drugs contributed to a fatal overdose can take months, but a preliminary examination points to fentanyl, Franklin County Coroner Anahi Ortiz said Friday.
"A toxicologist was able to do a screening on the first five" deceased, Ortiz said. "Every single one of them had fentanyl in their system."
The Franklin County coroner's office announced Wednesday that there were 18 suspected overdose deaths in the previous week, including five in a 24-hour period.
The number of total overdoses has held steady, though, with paramedics administering the overdose antidote naloxone between eight and nine times per day in recent days, said Battalion Chief Steve Martin of the Columbus Division of Fire.
"It's the dead-on-arrival count that's going up," Martin said.
Fentanyl is roughly 100 times more potent than the painkiller morphine, increasing the likelihood of fatal overdoses.
While Martin cautioned that the official toxicology results have yet to come back on any of the recent overdose deaths, he agreed that fentanyl mixed with other drugs is the likely culprit.
Martin pointed to two possible reasons why dealers would mix the powerful drug with other intoxicating substances.
"There's no laboratory controls over sanitation in a drug house," which makes cross-contamination and the mixing of drugs more likely, he said.
Dealers also might be mixing fentanyl with their other products to give them an extra kick to keep customers coming back, Martin said.
The battalion chief said he worries that drug users and their friends and family might not realize they need naloxone if the users aren't abusing opioids such as heroin or fentanyl. The mixing of drugs means opioid overdoes are a possibility even with non-opiate drugs, he said.
It's not clear where the fentanyl is coming from, but on Aug. 30, Columbus police raided a house on the 300 block of South Wayne Avenue in the Hilltop and seized 1 kilo — or roughly 2.2 pounds — of the drug and made four arrests.
In spite of the recent bad news, overdose deaths are trending downward in central Ohio. Franklin County, for example, saw a roughly 13 percent decrease in fatal overdoses in the first quarter of 2018 compared with the first quarter of 2017.
The Rapid Response Addiction and Crisis Team, a partnership between the Columbus Division of Fire, Southwest Healthcare and the Alcohol Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County, plans to increase outreach in neighborhoods hardest hit by overdoses.
Columbus Public Health sent out an advisory Thursday reminding central Ohioans that naloxone is available at the Columbus Division of Fire headquarters at 3639 Parsons Ave. from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Franklin County Public Health also provides free naloxone training and naloxone kits through its website.
Copyright 2018 The Columbus Dispatch