Officials were alarmed when 23 emergency calls involving suspected overdose cases were received in the county in under 24 hours.
Police officers in Hamilton County reported an unusual spike in overdose cases last weekend that was likely due to a batch of methamphetamine mixed with fentanyl that was sold as ecstasy pills.
As many as 10 of the overdose cases resulted in death, though the coroner’s office has yet to confirm if overdose was the root cause in all the area deaths that occurred since June 19.
Regardless, officials were alarmed when 23 emergency calls involving suspected overdose cases were received in the county in under 24 hours. Overall, they fielded 54 calls from early Friday to early Monday.
On Saturday, the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition sent out an alert to the local populace due to the high number of overdoses. Newtown Police Chief Tom Synan, a co-chair of the Heroin Coalition, believes that the root cause is the highly potent opioid fentanyl.
“Late in May, Tom Fallon, investigative commander for the heroin task force, said investigators learned that a drug supplier was mixing fentanyl with meth and then adding red, yellow or blue food coloring and pressing the mixture into a pill form to be sold as ecstasy,” reports The Cincinnati Enquirer. “The task force has also found other fake pressed-pills sold on the street as pain pills in recent months that were tainted with fentanyl.”
Fallon also noted that there’s been a similar problem with crackcocaine being mixed with fentanyl. This has been an increasing issue across the country as drug sellers learn that adding small amounts of the opioid to a batch of drugs can seriously enhance the effects.
However, since fentanyl is up to 100 times more potent than morphine, just a tiny bit too much can result in a dangerous overdose. Mixing drugs also always increases that risk.
This problem has led experts to name fentanyl as the key driver in a “third wave” of the U.S. opioid epidemic. A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that deaths involving the drug have doubled every year since 2013.
Ohio has seen a surge in these kinds of overdoses since April, particularly on the weekends. Because individuals who are addicted to opioids generally can’t wait until the weekend, this tells authorities like Synan that many of the victims are not addicted to this type of drug.
In fact, those who have not built up a tolerance to opioids are especially vulnerable to fatal overdose if they take fentanyl, which is why fentanyl is only prescribed to individuals who are already opioid-tolerant.