The opioid epidemic — and fatalities associated with fentanyl, in particular — has certainly made its share of headlines across the nation. And in Rochester, too many families are grieving over how the synthetic drug has caused so much pain. Fentanyl proved to be a factor in 88% of fatal drug overdoses reported by the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office during the first six months of 2017. Now, there’s a new mixture of synthetic opiates that’s wreaking havoc in Rochester, and it’s aptly named for its lethal risks.
In the U.S., approximately 16.6 million people are struggling with alcoholism, with 2.6 million of those also being dependent on an illicit substance. In Rochester and in many other cities, those dependencies often prove fatal. Throughout 2016, 206 people died due to opioid overdoses, as reported by the Monroe County Medical Examiners Office. In just the first half of 2017, the number of fatal overdoses had hit 115, with the majority involving fentanyl, a synthetic opiate known to be 50 times more potent than heroin. In only the first two months of 2018, there were 176 overdoses throughout Monroe County, with 30 of them proving fatal.
Although 10.3 million people admitted to driving under the influence of illicit drugs between 2011 and 2012, fentanyl is so dangerous that it’s possible to try fentanyl once (and worse, never know it’s what you’re using) and suffer a fatal overdose. And while many of these overdoses occur in the city of Rochester, victims have also passed away in Pittsford, Penfield, Webster, Henrietta, Greece, and seven other suburbs in the area. It’s gotten to the point where the toxicologists there have gotten so overwhelmed that funding was allocated to hire two more to help shoulder the workload.
And although Narcan training and response kits are being prioritized throughout the city, the problem may be getting worse — especially as new drug mixtures appear on the scene. A highly harmful new mixture known as “Gray Death” has now made its presence known here in Rochester. It contains not only fentanyl but also carfentanil, which is reportedly 100 times more powerful than fentanyl and a staggering 10,000 more potent than morphine. It’s so deadly that an Ohio police officer actually overdosed last year from merely handling the substance. It’s also thought to be powerful enough that standard antidotes like Narcan may not even work on overdose victims.
Following a spike in overdoses in Orleans County, Rochester police officers tracked down several suspected fentanyl dealers and confiscated several drugs and thousands of dollars in cash from their residences. The fact that three out of four of the dealers arrested were under the age of 18 (with one being only 15) makes an already concerning problem that much more so.
A statement from the Orleans County Major Crimes Task Force read: “Orleans County law enforcement is committed to tracking down the source of these dangerous drugs no matter where, and arrest the individuals who are responsible for plaguing our communities with these dangerous drugs.”
But the real question — which has yet to be answered — is how to keep these drugs off the streets and out of the hands of those who are most vulnerable? Many experts believe that treating the growing opioid epidemic as a health and social issue, rather than as a criminal one, will provide the solution. But as yet, it’s unclear as to whether Rochester will embrace that mentality.