Opioid Deaths Involving Cocaine Increasing in Washtenaw County

The use of cocaine spiked with fentanyl is on the rise in Washtenaw County with tragic results.

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.”

Fentanyl is an opioid developed in 1959 in Belgium as a pain medication for cancer patients. It is also combined with other medications for anesthesia. Because of its powerful opioid properties, Fentanyl is also diverted for abuse as a recreational drug often mixed with heroin or cocaine to increase the potency. According to the DEA, many users believe that they are purchasing straight heroin or cocaine and actually don’t know fentanyl is present. This often results in accidental overdoses and death. Illegally-produced fentanyl is manufactured primarily in Mexico.

In Washtenaw County, fentanyl has been present in almost all of the deaths where opioids and cocaine were involved. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes fentanyl as a synthetic opioid that can be up to 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin. The CDC confirms that fentanyl 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.”

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. Local information about Naloxone trainings and supplies is available on the Health Department website.

Fifty-five Washtenaw County residents died of opioid related overdoses between Jan. and Aug. 2018 – an average of one to two deaths every week. This is over 30 percent higher than the first eight months of 2017.

Additional data and treatment resources are available at www.washtenaw.org/opioidsand www.whiopioidproject.org.

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