How one huge Middletown drug bust could have eased Butler County’s overdose crisis

The record number of drug overdoses in Butler County last year could have been higher, Middletown Police Chief Rodney Muterspaw said.

He said Middletown police officers and other law enforcement agencies seized nearly $2 million worth of fentanyl and heroin off the streets last summer, and he believes that’s a major reason the number of drug overdoses dropped the second half of the year.

Butler County Coroner Dr. Lisa Mannix recently said there were 232 overdose deaths in the county last year, a 20.8 percent increase from 2016.

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Of the 232 overdoses, Mannix said 82 percent were related to fentanyl, fentanyl analog (a synthetic fentanyl-like drug) and heroin. There were 192 confirmed drug-related deaths in 2016.

Middletown was hard hit by the epidemic, and some of the 77 deaths there as reported by the Middletown Fire Department last year might not be reflected in Mannix’s numbers if the person was pronounced dead at Atrium Medical Center in Warren County.

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It appeared Butler County was headed toward recording even more overdose deaths after the first six months of 2017. For all of Butler County, in the first half of 2017 there were 138 total overdose deaths, 59.5 percent of the 232 total. In the second half of the year, there were 94 total overdose deaths, or 40.5 percent of the total, according to the coroner’s office.

For cases in Middletown that came to the Butler County Coroner’s Office, there were 45 overdoses, or 67 percent, in the first half of the year and 22, or 33 percent, the second half of the year.

According to the city officials, the drug investigation gained ground when, in August 2017, the Middletown Special Operations unit, along with Ohio State Highway Patrol, seized five kilograms, or about 11 pounds, of heroin and fentanyl. The drugs seized that day had a street value of $1.4 million, and the investigation traced the source to drug trafficking by the Sinaloa Drug Cartel in Mexico.

As a result of the federal investigation and seizures, a federal grand jury charged 12 individuals in a narcotics and money laundering conspiracy in a superseding indictment unsealed in Cincinnati on Thursday. Members of the group allegedly distributed fentanyl from Mexico in Middletown and sent proceeds back to the Sinaloa Drug Cartel in Mexico.

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