Police hunt heroin dealers behind Cincinnati overdose spike

CINCINNATI – A disturbing spike in heroin overdoses turned deadly Wednesday as police went out in force trying to stop whoever is spreading the dangerous mix.

A man in his 30s died from an overdose in the Rally's parking lot in the 3000 block of Reading Road, police said. Rescuers had responded to 12 overdoses as of 6 p.m., after 22 people overdosed in the city Tuesday.

Police suspect the batch of heroin making the rounds is mixed with fentanyl or carfentanil or perhaps rat poison - all agents that produce a greater high and a greater risk of overdose and death.

"I've got to say to whoever pushed this out on the street, this was the wrong thing to do," said Newtown police Chief Tom Synan, head of the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition, "because you now have the full and undivided attention of the Hamilton County Coalition Task Force, which includes local, state and federal agencies, and I can tell you we'll all be working with the Cincinnati Police Department to see who pushed this out on the street."

Police believe more than one dealer is involved. At least one is even giving it away, Capt. Aaron Jones said.

"Of the victims yesterday that would talk to us and were honest in telling us where they received this heroin from, it’s from several different people ... from several different areas," Jones said.

"Some of those were given almost as what we call testers — 'Try this out and if you like it, you can get a hold of me.'"

Many of Tuesday's overdoses occurred within a 90-minute period, Jones said. Fourteen happened in a small area of police District 3 on the West Side. Seven occurred in one neighborhood - West Price Hill.  In every case, police or fire rescuers used Narcan to revive them.

There were more overdoses in 1 1/2 hours than in a typical day.

"In an eight-10 hour shift, you might have five, six, seven, eight overdoses," Jones said. "But, as I was responding to a community meeting, I heard basically we were at one scene where we had three individuals who had overdosed and then we had another scene where we had two or three.

"As I walked into the community meeting — the 30 or 40 minutes I was there — we had another eight to 10.

"Basically, within 90 minutes, we had almost 16 reported overdoses."

So many overdoses tax the resources of emergency responders, Jones said.

"We’re very lucky there were no deaths," he said.  

Jones said they are trying to determine if the heroin came from one batch or several.

"We don’t know.  What we’ve done is kind of put a rush on the samples we were able to recover," he said.

Four of those who overdosed Tuesday were in court Wednesday morning - including two who OD'd with four kids in the car, according to police. Angel Leal and Gypsy Walls were being held on $50,000 and $6,000 bonds, respectively.

The surge of overdoses is a call to action for Amy Russ and Mary Jenkins.

Russ' 27-year-old son Eric died last November of a heroin/fentanyl mixture.

"It's devastating, but it's not surprising to me because not enough is being done about this heroin epidemic that took my son and many other peoples' sons." Russ said.

 Amy said she was quiet at first, but not anymore, especially talking about solutions.

"Talk about it. Seek treatment. Don't be afraid to admit that your child has a problem or your spouse or anybody has a problem," she said.

Russ said her 3-year-old grandson asks where Uncle Eric is.

Jenkins is president of the Westwood Civic Association. There were two overdoses in her neighborhood Tuesday.

"Westwood Civic Association and its Westwood United To Stop The Violence Initiative is looking for deep citizen engagement to lift our neighborhood up — to be eyes and ears for the police," Jenkins said.

Synan says law enforcement and the community need to work together to find solutions — and if something doesn't work, scrap it and try again,

Synan said area hospitals had seen a spike since last weekend, but not like Tuesday.

"We were aware of a spike. However, yesterday was not something we have seen in this area," he said.

The volume of overdoses triggered area-wide alerts.

"We were sending warnings to hospitals, doctors, boards of health, elected officials, the task force, the Fusion Center.  All the members of the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition were made aware as it was going on," Synan said.

Police put out a warning to the public on Twitter Tuesday night:

They weren't the only ones. An Indiana state trooper posted about an uptick in fentanyl-related heroin overdoses in Jennings County, Indiana, earlier in the day. Less than a week ago, CNN reported 27 heroin overdoses within 4 hours in a West Virginia town.

The Tri-State's opioid epidemic is well-documented, and the recent emergence of heroin strains laced with surgical anesthetics and animal tranquilizers has backed both law enforcement officers and health officials into a tight corner.

Tried and true antidotes like Narcan are sometimes not enough to reverse the effects of these deadly cocktails, and drug users who buy them may not know exactly what they've purchased.

The Cincinnati Police Department asked individuals with information about these incidents to contact Crime Stoppers at 513-352-3040.

RELATED: See WCPO's special coverage of the heroin epidemic in the Tri-State.

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