Fentanyl-related deaths on the rise

October 1, 2018

IRONTON — While prescription opioid and heroin deaths are on the decline in Ohio, fentanyl-related deaths in 2017 were on the rise, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

Similar results have been reported in Lawrence County, according to Prosecuting Attorney Brigham Anderson and Coroner Ben Mack.

The annual drug overdose report in 2017 shows an eight-year low in prescription opioid death and a four-year low in heroin deaths in Ohio, according to a news release from the Ohio Department of Health.

Illegally produced fentanyl, however, which is being mixed and used with other street drugs such as cocaine, heroin and crystal meth, is now driving Ohio’s unintentional overdose deaths, which totaled 4,854 last year.

“We’re seeing fentanyl combined with meth and heroin involved with most overdoses,” Anderson said Thursday. “We had 326 total overdoses in Lawrence County last year. Twenty-one of those were fatal.”

“Overdose deaths are up” this year, Mack said. “That’s attributable to fentanyl. It’s incredibly potent. In 2018, we’ve had 14 confirmed deaths through late September, with two or three more under investigation. All but one is attributable to fentanyl. We had 15 last year.”

However, overdose numbers are down by some 50 percent, said Mack, an emergency room physician at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Huntington.

Drug abusers usually inject fentanyl and don’t know how much of the drug they’re using, Mack said.

“Fentanyl is so potent,” he said. “A shoe box full could kill all of Huntington.”

“While data shows us that Ohio efforts to curb prescription opioid abuse are working, the driving force today in Ohio’s ever-changing opioid epidemic is deadly fentanyl being used with other street drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine,” said Lance Himes, director of the Ohio Department of Health.

Fentanyl is coming in from Mexico through Detroit and through Columbus and Dayton, Anderson said.

In 2017, illegally produced fentanyl and related drugs like carfentanil, which are opioids, were involved in 71 percent of all unintentional overdose deaths, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

By comparison, fentanyl was involved in 58 percent of all overdose deaths in 2016, 38 percent in 2015 and 20 percent in 2014, according to the release.

“Fentanyl is so potent, a shoe box full could kill all of Huntington.”

Ben Mack coroner

Update hourly