Authorities throughout Ohio are scrambling to prevent more drug overdoses after one of the deadliest months in the state’s history.
In one week in August, 174 people in Cincinnati experienced a heroin overdose. More than 300 people have overdosed in the metro area since Aug. 19.
Across the state in Cuyahoga County, the home of Cleveland, the medical examiner’s office reported at least 52 fatal opioid overdoses in the month of August — a new record. In the first eight days of September, 14 people died from overdoses in the county, including 10 during Labor Day weekend.
A mixture of heroin and the much more potent drugs fentanyl and carfentanil have caused the string of overdoses. Fentanyl is a powerful prescription painkiller, and carfentanil is a tranquilizer used to sedate elephants.
Hamilton County Coroner Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco told The Associated Press she fears drug dealers are using the state as a “test tube” to determine if it’s possible to mix carfentanil with heroin and sell it.
“The very intense and focused spike brought up a lot of fears …. that our community was being used as a test tube,” Sammarco said. “What are they learning from it? Are they looking to see how many people it’s going to kill or how quickly our first responders can respond? And how many customers is that going to generate for them?”
Chief Tom Synan, the head of a Cincinnati-area drug task force, asked state officials to declare a public health emergency.
“When you have anywhere from 100 to 200 people overdosing in a week, there’s no other way to describe this but a crisis,” Synan told WOSU Radio, the area’s NPR affiliate. “The citizens are saying enough is enough. It’s draining the resources of our first responders.”
On Sept. 7, Hamilton County Judge Robert Ruehlman declared that anyone turning in potentially deadly drugs in the county was immune from prosecution.
County Prosecutor Joe Deters told the court that citizens needed a safe way to get rid of the potentially deadly drugs.
“We may have family members who find it,” Deters said in court, per the AP. “Their child may be an addict, their husband … and this gives them a vehicle to turn it in without fear of prosecution.”
Echoing those sentiments, Sammarco urged residents to “Turn it in, get it off the streets; get it out of your homes, out of your families.”
Every law enforcement agency in the county will accept drugs that carry the potential for causing an overdose.
Emergency responders throughout Ohio are equipped with naloxone, an anti-overdose drug that can save the life of someone experiencing an overdose. However, some first responders have reported having to administer as many as six doses of naloxone because of the extreme potency of carfentanil. In comparison, most heroin overdoses can be reversed with one dose of naloxone.
The drug is so potent that it can be dangerous to first responders and drug dogs that come in contact with it. That’s one more reason why authorities hope citizens turn it in.
While opioid overdoses garnered national attention, Cleveland Police and Ohio State Patrol officers may have prevented a number of cocaine overdoses by making what’s being called the largest cocaine bust in the area in the last decade.
“I was surprised we got that much cocaine here in Cleveland,” Keith Martin of the DEA’s Cleveland office told Fox 8 News.
The local authorities worked in conjunction with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to arrest two men from Mexico for drug trafficking. The officers had received a tip regarding a large cocaine shipment behind a warehouse in Cleveland.
After staking out the location, cops watched the men transport cocaine from one car to a hidden compartment in a trailer being pulled by a truck. The officers pulled the truck over and arrested the men.
“It’s very important that we get drugs off the street, especially a quantity like we just seized,” Martin said. “That could reach thousands of people.”