Super-powerful narcotics threaten even more fatal drug overdoses in region; six in Danville area spur community action

“If you’re putting a needle in your arm, you’re playing Russian roulette,” because so many super-powerful narcotics such as fentanyl are in the illegal drug trade, Dr. Eric Guerrant, emergency department medical director at Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center in Danville, told Laura Ungar of The Courier-Journal for a story on the threat and his community’s reaction to it.

The elephant tranquilizer carfentanil, 100 times as strong as fentanyl, may be the biggest threat. While it “hasn’t been definitively identified in Kentucky or Southern Indiana, the powerful synthetic drug has been confirmed in eight overdose deaths in nearby Hamilton County, Ohio, which includes Cincinnati,” he drug is suspected in dozens of overdoses, a few of them fatal, in the Louisville area and Mount Sterling, Ungar notes.

“Carfentanil is cheaper for drug dealers to use as an additive because a tiny amount is so powerful. Addicts typically have no idea what they’re taking, and it can be difficult to discern even if they die. Tests to confirm the drugs can take months,” Ungar writes. “While routine toxicology tests can detect fentanyl, they don’t usually pick up carfentanil, said Mike Wynn, a spokesman for the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet and the state medical examiner’s office. So conceivably, carfentanil could already be here in Kentucky.”

Ungar reports, “Officials say carfentanil may be just the closest of several drug threats on the horizon. Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, said he’s also worried about related synthetic opioids W-15 and W-18, which are also many times more potent than heroin and have been found in Canada and Pennsylvania. Officials say Kentucky is particularly vulnerable to this new wave of powerful narcotics because addiction is so entrenched. Statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked the state’s drug overdose death rate fourth-highest nationally in 2014 – 24.7 per 100,000, reflecting 1,077 deaths. State records show that even more Kentuckians – 1,200 – lost their lives to drug overdoses last year.”

Six people in Boyle County overdosed on heroin in two weeks in July. “They were in cardio-pulmonary arrest,” Guerrant told Ungar. “Only one survived the initial resuscitation. They were all young adults. They were from all walks of life, too.”

The deaths shook the Danville area into action. The Boyle County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy held a community meeting that drew more than 100 people, including church leaders, substance abuse treatment professionals, emergency workers and local politicians. “Local groups and organizations held a candlelight vigil on Overdose Awareness Day Aug. 31 and a 5K ‘Run Against Addiction’ a few days later. Danville resident Toni Ward launched a new group with a heavy Facebook presence called Families Into Getting Help Together, hoping to reach more young adults.”

To raise awareness of the issue, President Obama has proclaimed Sept. 18-24 Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week.

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