Officials in New Haven declared a public health emergency in June after 15 people overdosed (2 fatal) on cocaine laced with a powerful opioid substance, fentanyl, according to New Haven Register. Law enforcement officials are saying that the overdose victims thought they were purchasing cocaine and have warned people who purchase the illicit drug to understand that they may be purchasing a lethal opioid. According to addiction experts at Mountainside, the overdoses and subsequent warnings from law enforcement officials may have the opposite desired effect and encourage drug seekers to track down the “tainted” batch because they know how powerful it is.
“There is always a certain percentage of drug users who have an appetite for something stronger. Knowing that this batch of drugs is powerful enough to kill is almost a certificate of authenticity to this population,” said Dr. Shanthi Mogali, Director of Psychiatry at Mountainside. “They purchase the average dosage with the intent of diluting its power with other additives or taking smaller doses. More ‘bang for the buck.’ ”
Dozens of people have died of drug overdoses in Connecticut. According to the state’s chief medical examiner, Dr. James Gill, 119 people died of opioid overdoses during the first three months of 2016, including 110 deaths involving heroin and 83 involving fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that officials have said is 50 times stronger than heroin. The majority of fatal overdoses involved multiple drugs. Compared to 2012, when there were only 14 fatal overdoses related to fentanyl the entire year, the 2016 numbers become even more alarming.
Connecticut’s Department of Public Health has pledged 700 naloxone overdose kits to the city’s first responders and community providers. As a narcotic antagonist, naloxone dislocates opiates from receptor sites in the brain and reverses respiratory depression that usually is the cause of overdose deaths. Naloxone does not have the potential for abuse.
“What has been happening in New Haven right now has been happening all over the world, crossing all social divides – class, ethnicity, race, sex,” Dr. Mogali said. “In our Adolescent program, we have been treating opioid-addicted teens as young as 15 years old while in our Residential program, we have had a boom of individuals who only started using heroin in their 50s. We are in crisis, but recovery is possible through treatment.”