Fentanyl overdose deaths rise sharply in Hamilton County, report finds

CINCINNATI – An opiate more powerful than heroin was present in more than 30 percent of those who died from overdoses in Hamilton County last year, officials said.

Fentanyl is similar to morphine, but more potent, officials with the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition said in a report released Friday. The number of fentanyl-related deaths in Hamilton County jumped up from just a handful in 2013 to 94 last year as of Sept. 30. Officials said they expected that number to rise once data were finalized.

The report found that it was more common in Hamilton County than elsewhere in Ohio for fentanyl to be mixed with heroin.  Last year, 61 percent of fentanyl overdose deaths involved heroin too, compared to 35 percent in other metropolitan areas of Ohio.

“Users are often unaware that their drugs may have been cut with fentanyl or other adulterants, which places them at even greater risk of overdose or even death,” Hamilton County Commissioner Dennis Deters, chair of the heroin coalition, said.

In efforts to combat the overdoses, officials have been working to get Narcan in the hands of first responders. Hamilton County has allocated funds for nearly 3,400 doses to police departments and social service agencies, according to officials

“We have put this life-saving drug directly in the hands of our public safety partners, which has resulted in the reversal of overdoses, and we’re just scratching the surface,” county Health Commissioner Tim Ingram said.

Police are also working to reduce the supply of drugs in the county, according to Newtown Chief Tom Synan, who leads the Heroin Task Force.

“Tracking overdoses in the county helps us focus investigators and law enforcement in the areas of greatest need,” he said.

The report also looked at where those who died from fentanyl-related overdoses lived. Ingram said that officials identified “a few pockets within the county that are experiences much higher numbers of fentanyl-related overdoses.”

“It’s important to get this information out to first responders, treatment centers and users, so they are aware of the risks and can modify behavior and treatment,” Ingram said.

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