Opioid use just got deadlier

As if the opioid crisis isn’t already serious enough, now drug dealers are enterprising to draw even more users to these highly addictive drugs. They are doing this by adding opioid-based fentanyl to cocaine.

Families, first responders and, yes, even users, need to be aware of this deadly new combination.

The Ohio Department of Health is encouraging first responders to administer the opioid overdose drug Naloxone to victims at the scene of possible accidental drug overdoses, even if there is no immediate evidence of opioid drug use. That is, if the suspected overdose victim isn’t a regular heroin or opioid user or if there is no sign of heroin, fentanyl or other opioids at the scene. That’s because opioids have been showing up in cocaine and crack, possibly without the user’s knowledge.

Preliminary 2017 data indicates that 71 percent of all unintentional drug overdose deaths in Ohio involved fentanyl or a related opioid. Here are comparable figures for previous years: In 2016, 58 percent of overdose deaths were fentanyl- or opioid-based; 37.9 percent in 2015; 19.9 percent in 2014; and 4 percent in 2013, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

Though staggering, those increases aren’t incredibly surprising as we have been seeing this crisis grow and spiral upward.

But here’s what may be unexpected, especially to the layman: Preliminary 2017 ODH data also is showing that 22 percent (850) of all overdose victims who died in Ohio last year had a combination of both cocaine and fentanyl-related drugs in their systems. That’s compared to 15 percent (619) in 2016 and just 8 percent (239) in 2015.

Additionally, overdose deaths in which both fentanyl and methamphetamines or other psychostimulants were mentioned on the death certificate increased by 142 percent from 117 in 2016 to 283 in 2017.

Experts say that makers of illegal fentanyl are sometimes combining fentanyl with heroin and now cocaine to create a new product — with or without the user’s knowledge — to increase the euphoric effects likely to attract return customers seeking to repeat the high.

Even though Naloxone is not effective in treating drug overdoses caused solely by stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamines, Naloxone may be helpful in drug overdoses caused by a combination of stimulants and opioids like fentanyl and its analogues.

That’s knowledge that first responders, families of users and users need to have.

But what’s more important for users to know? Help is available. All they need do is ask.

Call 211 or log on to www.helpnetworkneo.org for a database of resources for help. Or text 4hope to 741741 to access a crisis text line.