Toxic opioid mixture growing, killing users

For a moment, I thought we could catch our collective breath.

It appeared the number of opioid overdoses and related deaths were on the downturn. That’s not to say Trumbull County residents and others across the state and the nation are no longer using illegal drugs. Certainly, I’m no expert on this topic, but I do my fair share of reading about it, and it appeared to me drug users, possibly frightened by the immense number of opioid overdose deaths in the news, were switching their drugs of choice to “safer” street drugs like cocaine. (Sounds ridiculous, I know.)

Then last week, a couple press releases landed in my email sent by the Trumbull County Combined Health District and the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board, reporting evidence indicated a new batch of drugs was hitting Trumbull County streets and killing its users.

This deadly concoction includes a mixture of cocaine and fentanyl. According to April Caraway, executive director of the mental health and recovery board, there have been 29 confirmed overdose deaths in Trumbull County so far this year. Autopsy toxicology reports show the top three substances in the toxicology reports were fentanyl, cocaine and heroin — in that order.

While heroin overdoses have decreased significantly, it is being replaced with a steady increase of fentanyl and cocaine.

“Across the nation there has been an increase in overdose deaths by people who primarily use cocaine. This leads us to believe that they are unknowingly getting cocaine laced with fentanyl,” Caraway said.

Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid that acts quickly and can cause users to stop breathing.

There are different theories about how the mixture is ending up in users’ blood streams and whether it’s intentional or accidental.

Some experts believe the deadly combination may be coming from users who are combining the drugs in a mixture of cocaine and heroin known as a “speedball.” Users may be increasingly replacing the heroin with the more potent opioid fentanyl — knowingly or unknowingly.

According to published reports, drug dealers more frequently these days are selling fentanyl under the guise of heroin. That’s because fentanyl is generally cheaper and far more potent than heroin, so a seller can make more money by selling less drugs. But because fentanyl is so much more powerful than heroin, it carries a much higher overdose risk, particularly if the user isn’t aware of the switch and doesn’t adjust the dosage amount.

Other doctors and experts have reported surviving overdose patients indicate they thought they were using pure cocaine with no intent to use opioids, or vice versa.

So why would a drug dealer intentionally mix the drugs without telling the users? Possibly because it’s a relatively cheap way to give a product more kick, or simply in an attempt to get cocaine buyers hooked on highly addictive opioids.

Either way, it’s a scary situation for both drug users and for the families of drug users. It’s not as if those mixing and marketing these street drugs are being regulated by some government organization, after all.

Really, the only way to be sure what you’re putting into your body is to avoid using illegal drugs.

For help with addiction, call 330-392-1100 or 211 locally. The Coleman Access Center, 552 N. Park Ave., Warren, assesses and refers people to detox and treatment programs.

In the meantime, Naloxone — the opioid overdose antidote drug — can save lives, at least temporarily, but it doesn’t help to get users clean. That is, unless being revived after a near-death overdose is enough of an eye-opener to drive you to get the help you need.

Naloxone kits, coupled by prevention education, are available at the Trumbull County Combined Health District. If you or someone you know is a user of illegal drugs, you can call 330-675-2489 to make an appointment.