In the wake of musician Prince’s autopsy results, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has issued a statement, cautioning Ohioans about the rise of overdoses related to fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid.

DeWine’s office reports Prince’s autopsy revealed the artist’s cause of death was “self-administered fentanyl” and said that fentanyl-related deaths have been rising dramatically in Ohio.

“We’ve seen what’s coming into the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) lab, as far as drug submissions from law enforcement around the state, and statistics show how dramatically fentanyl is on the rise in Ohio,” DeWine said. “In 2010, we had only 34 cases of fentanyl and last year we had 1,110 cases. We’re on track this year to surpass 2015 numbers.”

DeWine said BCI labs in Ohio (London, Richfield and Bowling Green) are seeing mostly synthetic fentanyl, which first appeared in 2013 in Ohio, rather than a prescription form. It’s 30 to 50 times stronger than heroin, according to the National Institute for Drug Abuse. Sometimes it’s cut with other substances, like cocaine or heroin.

Heroin is still the number one drug that’s brought to the BCI labs for testing in criminal cases; however, the number of heroin cases overall are declining, while fentanyl case numbers continue to rise.

Ohio coroners are also seeing deadly and startling results from fentanyl’s impact:

• The Delaware County Coroner’s Office reported Friday that the county has seen two fentanyl-related overdoses this year. One overdose was just fentanyl and the other was fentanyl mixed with other drugs. Last year, the county only had one fentanyl-related overdose but had nine other opioid-related deaths.

• The Franklin County Coroner’s Office reports there were 13 fentanyl-related deaths in 2014, 48 in 2015, and 16 deaths in the first quarter of 2016.

• The Cuyahoga County Coroner’s Office reports that in 2016, there were 19 fentanyl-related deaths in January, 24 in February, 34 in March, 26 in April, and 37 in May — for a total of 140 in just five months.

• The Montgomery County Coroner’s Office reported fentanyl was present in 46 accidental overdose deaths in January and February of this year. There were 128 opioid-related deaths in 2015.

“This opiate epidemic is the worst I’ve seen in my lifetime,” said DeWine. “We can’t continue to lose three to four people a day to opiate overdoses. Fentanyl is the latest substance to rise to the top of the alarming drug trend in our state.”

To help fight the opiate problem, DeWine created a “Heroin Unit” in 2013, which helps local law enforcement agencies with investigations and prosecutions. It also includes outreach specialists who help communities combat the opiate problem.

DeWine’s office reports training is provided to law enforcement on different topics, like how to treat overdose scenes at crime scenes and how to administer the drug naloxone in overdose situations.


By Glenn Battishill

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Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG. Information in this story was provided by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.