Dr. Thomas Gilson, the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner, issued a Public Health Warning Thursday for the entire county.
It stated that, after testing opioids seized at multiple crime scenes, the Cuyahoga County Regional Forensic Science Laboratory had discovered a “significant increase” in the presence of carfentanil, a synthetic opioid that is both extremely potent and deeply unsafe for use by humans.
According to the Preliminary 2018 Drug Overdose Death Statistics, Cuyahoga County suffered “24 carfentanil-related deaths in 2018.” Though alarming, this is a “significant reduction from the 191 carfentanil-related deaths in 2017.”
Carfentanil is the most potent opioid currently available for commercial use, and of the most potent ever developed. It is officially sold under the commercial title of Wildnil. The main use for the drug is sedating large animals, including “ungulates, elephants, and rhinoceros.” It is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more powerful then fentanyl.
“The re-appearance of carfentanil in the local illicit drug supply is alarming,” Gilson said. “This is a very lethal drug and anyone using illicit or diverted drugs needs to be aware of the possibility of being exposed to it…Having another person in the vicinity to call 911 and/or administer naloxone can be life-saving.”
This is the first Public Health Warning of 2019 issued by the county, which has otherwise seen a decrease in opioid deaths for the first time in decades. In 2018, 560 deaths in the county were attributed to drug use, 440 from opioid use. This is a steep decline from the 727 recorded in 2017, 556 of which were attributed to opioids.
“This is good news–and it is definitely due to the hard work so many in our community have put in to stem the tide of this terrible crisis,” County Executive Armond Budish said of the decline. “But we cannot lose sight of the fact that too many people continue to die–families are still being destroyed; lives are being lost. I commend all of our partners as they continue to work to save and change lives.
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Andrew Shirley is a reporter at Battleground State News and The Ohio Star. Send tips to [email protected].
Photo “Opioids” by Kansas State Research and Extension’s Photo Stream. CC BY 2.0.