A Hamilton County commissioner said her region has seen a “troubling” rise this year in overdose deaths among African-Americans, and Butler County also has seen an increase, though officials here aren’t sounding the same alarm just yet.
“I’m reluctant to say that we are looking at any sort of spike in our numbers in Butler County,” said Butler County Coroner’s administrator Martin Schneider.
“The unfortunate truth is that our numbers, when looked at month-to-month, have been fairly consistent with the exceptions of January and February. Some days and weeks we may see more, but when extended out over a period of a month we have been pretty consistent.”
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Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, who's pushing for Congress to pass the Fentanyl Sanctions Act that would provide new tools to target foreign opioid traffickers, said cities like Cincinnati and others in Ohio "have seen overdose deaths spike even higher over the past several months."
“Law enforcement officials point to illegal fentanyl as the culprit,” said Brown. “On average, 14 Ohioans will die every day in my state due to an opioid overdose. The addiction crisis has taken too many lives and caused too much devastation in Ohio.”
Schneider said Butler County has seen “a slight rise” in the year-over-year numbers of African-American overdose deaths.
In 2017, 14 of the 232 total overdose victims were African-American, which is just more than 6 percent. A year later, that number dropped to five of the 164 overdose deaths, or 3 percent.
Through May 31 this year, however, eight African-Americans have already died out of 65 known or suspected drug overdoses. That’s more than 12 percent of the total overdose deaths this year, Schneider said.
Butler County is on pace to see about 160 total overdose deaths, Schneider said, which is consistent with 2018.
“Unfortunately, most of those are still coming from fentanyl or a combination of fentanyl and something else,” he said. “In fact, 65 percent of all the overdose cases we have seen ranging between June 2016 through December 2018, all contained fentanyl or a byproduct of illicitly produced fentanyl. And even now, in 2019, we still continue to see these types of drugs in our cases.”
Out of the 65 known or suspected overdose deaths this year, 45 cases contained fentanyl, a fentanyl analogue or fentanyl combined with another type of drug. There have been 18 cases through May 31 that involved methamphetamine, and all but two of those methamphetamine-related cases also included another drug and in most cases it was fentanyl or a fentanyl analogue, Schneider said.
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Hamilton County Commissioner Denise Driehaus, chair of the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition, said that during the weekend of May 25-26 there were six overdose deaths and four involved an African-American. Hamilton County had 18 overdose deaths over the past two weeks.
During that same weekend, six of the 11 people referred to a quick response team, or QRT, were African-American, Driehaus said. She said the increase in deaths, and the administration of Narcan and emergency room visits, “is a clear indication that fentanyl is being mixed with other types of drugs.”
“What we know is we have seen a decline in overdose deaths in the Caucasian population — typically the population using heroin — and a steep increase (in overdose deaths) in the African-American community, specifically who is using crack cocaine,” she said. “And we know that’s due to the use of fentanyl. It’s being mixed now in other drugs.”
Brown said China has promised to stop exporting fentanyl into the United States, but the country will “trust but verify.”
“We will take their word for it, but we also will be ready for sanctions to sanction Chinese pharmaceutical companies and Chinese chemical companies,” Brown said.
He said the Fentanyl Sanctions Act would, among other things, provide funding to law enforcement and intelligence agencies to fight foreign opioid traffickers, impose sanctions on foreign drug traffickers, and establish a National Commission on Synthetic Opioid Trafficking to monitor and report on U.S. efforts.
It also imposes sanctions on Chinese drug manufacturers who knowingly provide illicit synthetic opioids to traffickers, as well as foreign financial institutions and others that knowingly assist such drug trafficking.
FACTS AND FIGURES
6: Percentage of overdose victims who were African-American in Butler County in 2017
12: Percentage in 2019
65: Total suspected drug overdose deaths in Butler County this year