Seven people died in Hamilton County from apparent overdoses over a 24-hour period between May 18 and 19, officials with the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition said yesterday, and a total of 15 were admitted to emergency rooms.
The coalition put out an alert about the spike in overdoses following a rise in 911 calls and emergency room visits for overdoses in the week prior. It's not entirely clear what caused the increase, officials say, but they have some clues.
"Currently, we do not know what may be driving the change in activity," the coalition's alert reads. "However, the increased risk is evident and drawing upon recent past increases in activity, a change in the composition of illicit street drugs in our community is likely (including mixtures of opiates, fentanyl, carfentanil and other synthetics)."
Newtown Police Chief and Coalition Co-Chair Tom Synan also tied the overdose spike to likely additives.
"Fentanyl continues to (be) a major cause of overdose and is being mixed with cocaine and meth," Synan tweeted yesterday. "Stopping fentanyl coming into the country should be the national priority. This will continue until it is. More needs to be done."
In many ways, the heroin and fentanyl crises have fueled each other to their current ghastly heights.
Prescription drug companies first developed fentanyl in the 1960s to treat severe pain associated with surgery and certain cancers. It acts fast, is much more powerful than heroin and can be obtained in lozenge and patch forms. Like many powerful opiates, it’s prone to abuse.
In the early 2000s, doctors began widely prescribing opiates like fentanyl, leading to a huge increase in abuse and addictions. The demand for those opiates was in large part driven by marketing pushes from major pharmaceutical companies, which funded academic studies, educational programs and medical groups like the Federation of State Medical Boards.
Despite the tragic spike this weekend, Hamilton County could be on track to see fewer overdose deaths this year. So far, 157 people in the county have died of overdoses this year. By the end of May last year, 177 people had lost their lives to drug overdoses in Hamilton County.
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