Heroin Laced With The Most Potent Opioid Is Causing A Huge Rise In Overdoses In The Midwest

Parts of the nation have been grappling with a dangerous heroin epidemic, and the situation worsened when carfentanil, the most potent opioid used commercially, found its way to the streets. The authorities believe heroin laced with carfentanil has caused almost 90 overdoses in one Ohio county this week and about 60 in just two days across Ohio and Indiana, though the cause hasn’t been confirmed. Occasionally used as an elephant tranquilizer, carfentanil is 100 times stronger than fentanyl and 10,000 times stronger than morphine.

Hamilton County, Ohio — where close to 90 people have overdosed this week alone — issued a public health warning about carfentanil back in July, when 35 people overdosed in three days, six of whom died. According to CNN, the county usually sees around 25 overdoses in a week, so 90 is a drastic increase. Officials suspect the laced heroin is all from the same batch, since most of the overdoses happened on the west side of Cincinnati, though it is believed the drugs have come from more than one dealer.

The problem has also reached the Ohio-Indiana border. On Tuesday, the Indiana authorities responded to 12 heroin overdoses and one heroin-related death. The cause was originally believed to be fentanyl, but was later changed to the much more powerful carfentanil.

Because carfentanil is such a new drug, most paramedics and doctors aren’t even equipped to treat the overdoses, as hospitals and clinics use mass spectrometry tests to find out what drugs an overdose patient took and current tests don’t scan for carfentanil. However, the University of Florida Forensic Toxicology Lab is working on developing a test to identify it.

Another major problem, Dr. Shawn Ryan, chief medical officer at the BrightView addiction treatment center in Cincinnati, told Mic’s Max Plenke, is that the medicine used to treat heroin overdoses — Narcan — doesn’t work on carfentanil. “If you show up at a hospital with a heart attack, people are called to make sure you’re stable, they discharge, have a follow-up appointment and prescribe medicine — normal medical practice,” Ryan told Mic. “None of the normal pathways of care exist for what we’re dealing with today. The system is not prepared to deal with it.”

Indiana State Police Sergeant Stephen Wheeles also told CNN Jennings County, Indiana, where many overdoses have happened, ran out of Narcan after Tuesday’s hike in overdoses and had to restock. So, even though medics are trying to use the drug to revive overdose patients, they don’t have enough.