A 'mass-fatality event' — Ohio sees more than 4,000 overdose deaths in 2016

More than 4,000 Ohioans died from drug overdoses in 2016, according a survey of county coroner's offices conducted by The Columbus Dispatch.

 

The newspaper determined at least 4,149 people in the state died of a drug overdose in 2016 based upon the coroner's responses. The number represents a 36 percent jump from 2015's total of 3,050. Additionally, the 2016 figure is likely underestimated, as not all coroners have finished tallying the number of overdoses in their county for last year, and six coroner's offices in smaller counties did not respond to the newspapers repeated requests for overdose statistics.

The spike in deaths is largely attributable to the rise of extremely potent synthetic opioids like fentanyl, which is 50 times more powerful than heroin. Cuyahoga County, Ohio, tallied 400 fentanyl-related deaths between Nov. 21, 2015, and Dec. 31, 2016, alone. The county's coroner's office projects fentanyl will contribute to the deaths of as many as 600 people in the county in 2017.

"The opiate crisis is a slow-moving[,] mass-fatality event that occurred last year, is occurring again this year and will occur again next year," Thomas Gilson, MD, Cuyahoga County medical examiner, told a U.S. Senate committee last week, according to the Dispatch.

Fentanyl is frequently mixed into heroin, increasing the potency of the already dangerous narcotic. Dealers are also reportedly introducing the drug into the cocaine supply, which will likely spread the drug's reach across the state.

"With seemingly purposeful intent, cocaine is now being mixed into the fentanyl distribution and the analogs of fentanyl in an effort to introduce these drugs into the African American population," said Dr. Gilson. "Cocaine had been the only drug that victims were predominately African American. The covert introduction of fentanyl into the cocaine supply has caused a rapid rise in fatalities, and in 2017, the rate of African American fentanyl-related deaths has doubled from 2016."

In Montgomery County, the coroner's office has been forced to rent refrigerator trailers to store excess bodies due to recent surges in opioid-related deaths.

More articles on opioids: 
Georgia passes 3 laws to curb opioid epidemic 
Trump administration backpedals on plans to eliminate 'drug czar' office: 5 things to know 
FDA commissioner establishes new opioid committee

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