The Oneida County Overdose Response Team (ORT) is again raising awareness of fentanyl-contaminated stimulants in the local drug supply in response to a recent U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration warning of a nationwide increase in mass-overdose events in which victims are unknowingly ingesting fentanyl when taking cocaine and/or methamphetamines.
“Last year, we issued alerts when we saw a cluster of overdoses and fatalities associated with cocaine laced with fentanyl,” said Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. “Unfortunately, our surveillance shows that this trend is continuing, as we are seeing fentanyl mixed in with cocaine and methamphetamines, and even with counterfeit tablets that look like legitimate prescriptions pills. In view of the DEA’s warning, and our analysis of drugs detected in county drug-related deaths in 2021, we want to remind drug users that the likelihood of any street drug containing fentanyl is very high, which means that the likelihood of experiencing a fatal overdose is also high.”
So far in 2022, there have been 12 non-fatal overdoses in the county’s Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program (ODMAP) with the stimulants cocaine or methamphetamine as the suspected drug. In addition, there are four confirmed drug-related deaths — and 10 pending — that involve, at a minimum, fentanyl and a stimulant. In July 2021, the Overdose Response Team issued overdose alerts due to a mass-overdose event in Sylvan Beach and again in September in the Utica-area for a cluster of overdoses of which two were fatal. Both incidents were caused by cocaine laced with fentanyl. In 2021, 46% of the 89 drug-related deaths in Oneida County involved fentanyl mixed with cocaine (22), methamphetamine (16) or a combination of the two (3). That was a 78% increase from 2020 (23).
According to the DEA 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment, drug poisoning deaths in the U.S. involving cocaine and synthetic opioids increased from 167 deaths in 2010, to 8,659 deaths in 2018 — a 5,085% increase. These drugs can be packaged together for street sale without the knowledge of the user or seller, which can lead to adverse reactions especially in those who lack the opioid tolerance of a habitual opioid user. Oneida County is also seeing an increase in polysubstance deaths, as is evident by the fact that more than 90% of the 2021 drug-related deaths indicated the presence of more than one drug, the majority of which included fentanyl.
Stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamines, and opioids, such as fentanyl and heroin, exert different effects on the body. Stimulants increase brain activity and heart rate and opioids are a depressant that cause slowed breathing and respiratory depression. Consuming both creates a “push-pull” reaction in the body and brain which increases risk of overdose death.
The county is working with Opioid Task Force partners to disseminate educational information on risks associated with stimulants and fentanyl, as well as expand access to naloxone and fentanyl test strips, and is encouraging treatment and recovery programs to include information about naloxone and overdose with anyone engaging in substance use treatment for both opioids and stimulants.