(Chelsea Update would like to thank Susan Cerniglia and Kayla Steinberg for the information in this story.)
Nearly half of deaths related to opioids in Washtenaw County between January and August this year have involved cocaine. This is an increase compared to previous years, where under a quarter of opioid deaths involved cocaine each year between 2013 and 2017.
“We are monitoring the local opioid crisis very closely,” says Jimena Loveluck, deputy health officer at the Washtenaw County Health Department. “We’re notifying the public about this spike so residents and professionals will be better able to understand risks and respond to this new information.”
Nearly all of the deaths involving both opioids and cocaine this year in Washtenaw County have involved fentanyl.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirms that fentanyl – a synthetic opioid that can be up to 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin – is being mixed into cocaine, as well as methamphetamine, counterfeit opioid and benzodiazepine pills and heroin.
Fentanyl can cause immediate respiratory depression and death. It takes as little as 3mg, or the size of a grain of sand, to kill an average adult male.
“Deaths due to fentanyl alone or in combination with other drugs, such as heroin or cocaine, is on the rise,” says Jeff Jentzen, MD, PhD, chief medical examiner for Washtenaw County. “Cocaine appears to be regaining popularity. Individuals using heroin or cocaine may knowingly or unwittingly ingest fatal doses of fentanyl.”
Similar trends have also been documented in other states. Extreme caution should be used when ingesting any of these drugs. Most purchasers and users of these drugs are not able to detect if fentanyl is in the drug.
Reversing overdoses that involve fentanyl may require immediate and additional Naloxone, according to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Naloxone is a medication that counteracts the dangerous effects of an opioid overdose.
Fifty-five Washtenaw County residents died of opioid-related overdoses between January and August 2018 – an average of one to two deaths every week. This is over 30 percent higher than the first eight months of 2017.