Heroin overdose deaths in southwest Ohio are spiking even higher as officials warn that a “bad batch” is being mixed with an opioid that’s 100 times stronger than heroin.
Montgomery County Coroner Dr. Kent Harshbarger said that since Nov. 8, 23 suspected heroin deaths in the greater Dayton area contain Fentanyl, a powerful pain medication that can kill faster than heroin alone because victims get respiratory depression quicker and stop breathing.
“We’ve seen it, first on the street, and now it’s reflecting in the deceased cases we’re dealing with,” Harshbarger said at a Wednesday press conference. “This is all an effort to put some information out to the public. If you’re a current user, what’s on the street is much more powerful. If you’re a new user and don’t have tolerance, this current available product is much more dangerous than what we’ve seen.”
The 23 deaths are from the 27- to 30-county area served by the coroner’s office. In Montgomery County alone, Harshbarger said this trend could lead to more than 140 heroin-related deaths in 2013. There were 93 in the county through the first months of this year.
The Dayton Daily News, WHIO-TV and News Talk Radio WHIO recently produced “Prescription for Pain,” a series detailing the growing prescription drug epidemic in our community and how the problem is fueling a rise in heroin addiction.
Harshbarger and Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer — who announced the formation of a new drug-free coalition in conjunction with the series — urged citizens to get the word out to those who need to hear it.
“In the last 48 hours, we’ve dispatched crews on 13 overdoses in the community, so this is a very lethal combination of drugs,” Plummer said. “We do want to educate people. If you do have a substance abuse problem, there’s a bad batch out there that can be fatal to you.”
The officials said that in the past three weeks, 60 heroin-suspected cases have been submitted to the crime lab, with 12 being confirmed as including a heroin/Fentanyl combination.
Harshbarger said Fentanyl has been around for decades in a pharmaceutical liquid form, but this powder version is being produced illegally in much the same way as meth. “This is a clandestine product,” Harshbarger said. “Fentanyl is liquid. This is a powder product that’s being manufactured.”
Plummer said he doesn’t yet know where the Fentanyl landing on area streets originates.
“We’re trying to find a source of where this mixture’s coming from, Plummer said. “We’re working backwards on dealers, but unfortunately, there’s a lot of dealers out there right now.”
Plummer said law enforcement is “behind the 8-ball” with the heroin epidemic and now Fentanyl adds another twist.