A spate of heroin overdoses has rocked the state of Ohio.
Cincinnati police and emergency crews in the Cincinnati Metropolitan Area responded to 174 cases of heroin overdose in six days, according to a report by the Cincinnati Enquirer. The spike in overdoses resulted in three deaths.
“It’s unlike anything we’ve seen before,” Hamilton County Commissioner Dennis Deters told the Cincinnati Enquirer.
The area saw an estimated 78 overdoses from Aug. 23 to Aug. 24. Emergency dispatchers received calls from a fast food restaurant, from an ice cream parlor and from a vehicular crash scene where a man had overdosed while driving.
On Aug. 24, Cincinnati police said a man was found dead in a parked van outside a restaurant — the 12th overdose that day. A total of 43 overdoses were reported by day’s end.
By the end of the week, the overdose count had risen to 174.
“I am very disturbed about it,” area resident Richard Henson told WCPO. “It really saddens my heart.”
Police are investigating whether more powerful substances added to the heroin caused the overdoses.
“We have no idea, really, what’s causing this at this point, if it’s carfentanil, fentanyl or something else in this particular batch of heroin,” Newtown Police Chief Tom Synan told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “I think it’s too soon to know what the drug was laced with, if anything.”
The Cincinnati PD, the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition Task Force and the Fusion Task Force are working with state law enforcement officials to probe the root of the issue.
Kevin McCutcheon has battled substance use disorders for years. But one particular drug, carfentanil, left an indelible mark on his psyche.
“It was like — blackout,” he told CBS News.
McCutcheon took heroin mixed with carfentanil and nearly died. He did not know the heroin was laced with the drug.
Cincinnati police believe the same drug may have been responsible for the recent wave of overdoses in the Cincinnati Metropolitan Area. Law enforcement in Hamilton County found evidence of carfentanil-laced heroin.
Carfentanil is a synthetic opioid 10,000 times more potent than morphine. It is often used to sedate large animals, including oxen, buffalo and elephants. About 100 grams of the drug could kill thousands of people, DEA official Keith Martin told CBS News.
It has a similar chemical structure to fentanyl, a painkiller that made headlines recently for its role in the death of Prince.
Carfentanil was spotted in Canada earlier this year. In June, Canada Border Services Agency seized a package containing about one kilogram of the drug.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s Federal Serious and Organized Crime unit charged Joshua Wrenn of Calgary with a count of importation of a controlled substance and a count of possession for the purpose of trafficking.
“It is hard to imagine what the impact could have been if even the smallest amounts of this drug were to have made its way to the street,” RCMP Chief Superintendent George Stephenson said in a statement.
Human consumption of the drug can be deadly, according to Dr. Christopher Bunce, a public health officer with the Jackson County Health Department in Ohio.
“With as potent as carfentanil is, I’m not sure you could avoid an overdose,” he told The Republic.
Dozens of heroin overdoses occurred throughout the Midwest in recent months.
One person died of a fentanyl-laced heroin overdose in Jennings County, Indiana, on Aug. 23. Twelve cases of overdose occurred over two days in Mount Sterling, Kentucky. In Akron, at least 30 people have died of overdose since July 4.
Two weeks ago in Huntington, West Virginia, 27 people overdosed on heroin within four hours, one of whom died. Huntington has seen at least 440 overdoses in 2016.
Hamilton County Coroner Lakshmi K. Sammarco said these cases should serve as a warning for illicit drug users who may unknowingly consume a more potent substance.
“You may be literally gambling with your life,” he said in a statement.
Heroin use and overdose deaths have climbed in recent years. Overdose death rates involving the drug increased by 26 percent from 2013 to 2014. Non-Hispanic whites had the highest rate for overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Heroin use has increased among most demographic groups over the last decade, per the CDC.