Deadly drug overdoses keep rising in Ohio. In 2017, there were 4,854 cases of fatal overdose, marking a 20 percent increase from the number recorded in 2016.
Data on unintentional drug deaths reported to the Ohio Department of Health revealed that this was the eighth consecutive year that drug deaths increased. The number of fatal overdoses recorded by county coroners was 804 more than the 4,050 reported the previous year.
Cocaine-related deaths increased by 39 percent, from 1,109 in 2016 to 1,540 in 2017, but the powerful drug fentanyl fueled Ohio's drug epidemic. The drug accounts for nearly 75 percent of deaths, killing 3,431 people, or 46 percent more than in the previous year.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid analgesic similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more powerful. The schedule II prescription drug is typically prescribed for patients suffering from severe pain or to manage pain after surgery.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fentanyl works by binding to the opioid receptors that are found in areas of the brain that control emotions and pain. Once these drugs bind to the receptors, they can boost dopamine levels in the reward areas of the brain, which produces a state of relaxation and euphoria.
Given the risk of addiction, abuse and improper use of fentanyl are dangerous. High doses of opioids, particularly potent ones such as fentanyl, can cause breathing to stop completely and this can lead to death.
The high potency of the drug also raises the risk of overdose, especially if a person who uses is not aware that a powder or pill contains fentanyl. The drug is sold in streets and can be mixed with cocaine and heroin, amplifying potency and potential dangers.
"Drug dealers are flooding communities with different drugs to see what takes. They are very smart business people," Ohio Council of Behavioral Health & Family Services Providers CEO Lori Criss told the Columbus Dispatch.
Although the number of drug addicts who get treatment has increased, the death toll keeps rising because fentanyl is mixed with a variety of drugs. Citing a state report on drug trends, the Columbus Dispatch said that drug cartels continue to flood Ohio with fentanyl and the demand continues to increase as users find that the potent drug produces a superior high.
Gov. John Kasich's administration has allocated more than $1 billion per year for the drug fight. It is also investing in naloxone for first responders, educational programs, drug courts, and housing for recovering drug addicts.