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Franklin County officials concerned by recent surge in opioid-related deaths

From The Columbus Dispatch

By Marion Renault & Rita Price

Word of a frightening spike in overdose deaths began circulating in the addiction-treatment community several days ago, and Franklin County Coroner Anahi M. Ortiz on Wednesday publicly revealed the toll: Eighteen people lost in just seven days.

“It’s horrible,” said David Royer, CEO of the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County.

Initial toxicology screenings indicate that the majority of the deaths are related to fentanyl, an increasingly prevalent and powerful synthetic opioid that’s often added to other drugs. Users expecting a high from cocaine, methamphetamine or heroin sometimes don’t know that the killer substance is part of the mix.

Others might seek it out because of its potency.

“Unfortunately, the people who are distributing these kinds of drugs in our community are relentless,” Royer said. “There’s no moral compass.”

The recent surge bumps the average rate of overdose deaths to 2.5 per day in the past week, a much higher rate than the county had experienced so far this year, Ortiz reported. Ohio’s overdose deaths continue to rise, with some 5,232 deaths recorded in the 12 months ending June 30, 2017, according to the federal government.

Health officials and emergency responders say they have no choice but to keep raising awareness about the overdose-reversal medication naloxone, which also goes under the brand name of Narcan. Ortiz reminded the public that naloxone can be obtained at any pharmacy without a prescription at a cost or with health insurance. Naloxone distributors also can be found through the Columbus Public Health website.

“I know it’s a polarizing point of discussion, but it is lifesaving,” said Andrew Moss, director of the Maryhaven Addiction and Stabilization center in Merion Village. “These overdoses are happening everywhere.”

Moss also said a quick and reliable test for the presence of fentanyl is desperately needed. “Unfortunately, there’s no current, FDA-approved, instant screen for fentanyl,” he said. “It would be helpful for us to know what the person used.”

A woman recently treated at Maryhaven had tested negative “for everything,” Moss said, yet she displayed signs of overdose.

Deciding how much information to convey to the public about spikes and anomalies in drug use, including disclosing the neighborhoods in which they occur, is a difficult balancing act, said Amy O’Grady, chief of addiction policy in the city attorney’s office.

“You do have people who seek out fentanyl because it’s so powerful,” she said.

Emergency responders are pressed to keep up with the challenges of multi-drug overdoses, said Jim Davis, an assistant chief with the Columbus Division of Fire. “People are putting things in their bodies that they don’t know they’re putting into their bodies,” he said. “We’re trying to respond to the needs, but it’s kind of a moving target at this point.”

Read the full Dispatch story

See the story on WBNS-10TV

See the interview with MASC Director Andrew Moss on ABC6

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