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Last month in Ohio, a state long considered the ideal of Midwest American values, 96 people overdosed on heroin in the span of a few days. Like every other state in the country, Ohio battles its share of the opioid epidemic, but this week stood out as particularly forbidding.
Officials believe the heroin in question came laced with Carfentanil, a synthetic opioid 10,000 times more potent than morphine that’s used to sedate animals the size of elephants, moose, and rhinos.
“The side of effect of Carfentanil is death,” Chief of Police in Newtown, Ohio, Tom Synan, reports Rolling Stone. “If the first side effect is death, the second is an overdose you may never come out of.”
To get a perspective on the strength of Carfentanil, veterinarians don masks and gloves to avoid skin contact with the drug because a dose the size of a grain of salt is lethal to humans. A mere two milligrams of it will knockout a 2,000-pound elephant.
Officials claim that heroin dealers simply order the drug online from underground Chinese labs who then mail it directly to the U.S., or that it’s manufactured in Mexico using chemicals from China and then smuggled into the country.
This is not a new problem. Fentanyl, another powerful opiate that’s often cut with heroin and was responsible for 9,600 overdose fatalities in 2013 arrives in the states the exact same way. By comparison, Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin, while Carfentanil can be up to 100 times more potent than Fentanyl, reports The New York Times.
On the heels of the G20 Summit, hosted by China in early September, the White House released a statement regarding this issue. “Today, the Obama Administration enhanced measures in conjunction with the Chinese government to combat the supply of fentanyl and it’s analogues into the United States,” says the website.
What’s happening in Hamilton County, Ohio, where 96 people overdosed in one week, is unfortunately a snapshot of what’s happening across the country. Heroin abuse is ravaging the relatively small county, which includes the city of Cincinnati.
In 2014, Hamilton County, Ohio
- Population just over 800,000
- 10,000 people from the area were processed in the state’s criminal justice system for heroin use and those were just the ones who got caught
- There were 177 heroin related deaths, an average of a fatal overdose every other day
In 2016, Hamilton County, Ohio
- 35 reported heroin overdoses and six deaths over just three days in July
- August saw 96 overdoses and an additional 3 more fatalities
- When Carfentanil made its way on the street market, first responders went to the scene of nearly 200 overdoses
- Estimates suggest that the heroin related death toll will triple or quadruple in comparison to previous years
What are the Problems With Carfentanil Laced Heroin?
The deadly opiate is so strong that it’s resistant to naloxone; the antidote first responders carry to reverse a heroin overdose. Instead of one or two shots of the drug, which also goes by the name Narcan, victims of Carfentanil laced heroin might need as many as six shots, if it even brings them back at all. An unintended consequence of this is a shortage of the lifesaving naloxone all across the county.
You feel like a kid with his finger in the dike, you know?” Joseph Pinjuh, a Department of Justice drug task for chief based in Ohio, told the Associated Press. “We’re running out of fingers.”
States are continually running into a type of enforcement wall, unable to stop the flow of the illegal drugs and a criminal justice system that does nothing to address the underlying issue of addiction. Hitting his own wall, the chief of police in Gloucester, Massachusetts has stopped arresting drug addicts. His program, The Angel Initiative, instead works with local rehab facilities centers to help people get into treatment.
Other cities, counties and states are have started similar programs and found they’re more effective and less expensive than traditional law enforcement approaches.
Unfortunately, a rash of overdoses acts as a flare to other users addicted to heroin. Instead of concern for their own personal safety, the fatalities seem to suggest a quality product that will provide an incredible “high.” So the cycle of overdose will continue if the approach to helping people recover from addiction does not change.