At least three deaths are suspected after a rash of more than 50 fentanyl overdoses this weekend, which has strained both Springfield first responders and hospital staff.
The three deaths are suspected overdoses, but won’t be confirmed until toxicology reports are completed in the next few months, Clark County Coroner Dr. Richard Marsh said Monday.
There have been at least six suspected drug deaths this month, which Marsh said is a typical number for month in Clark County. The deaths typically run in cycles, he said.
“It’s not unusual for what we’ve been seeing recently,” Marsh said.
Last year the county saw 68 overdose deaths through November. Since that time, 19 more deaths may be drug-related, he said, meaning the number could eclipse the record set the previous year.
In 2015, Clark County saw 73 accidental drug deaths, Marsh said.
The majority of drug deaths in Clark County last year have involved illicit fentanyl, Marsh said, which is 50 times more powerful than heroin. Many of the deaths involve multiple drugs.
Springfield Regional Medical Center’s emergency department reported 50 drug overdose-related cases in 48 hours this past weekend, according to spokesman Dave Lamb. The numbers were more typical on Sunday, he said.
Despite social media reports, Lamb said the emergency department didn’t run out of nasal Naloxone — the overdose reversing drug commonly referred to by its brand name Narcan.
From 2 p.m. Thursday to 11 p.m. Friday last week, 19 overdose patients were transported to local emergency rooms from Clark County, according to an alert from the Ohio Department of Health’s system that tracks drug-related ER visits. Three consecutive alerts were triggered because the number of overdose visits surpassed the average for each 12-hour period.
It was the second such alert this month, which local health leaders say has been caused by a batch of synthetic fentanyl.
The average in a day is usually around five or six, Clark County Health Commissioner Charles Patterson said. And ER visits make up just a portion of the total overdose incidents because some people refuse transport to the hospital after being revived by first responders, Patterson said.
The Springfield Fire/Rescue Division has seen an increase in drug overdose runs over the past two months, Chief Nick Heimlich said.
Earlier this year, the city closed Fire Station No. 5 on Commerce Road due to budget cuts, taking one EMS unit out of service. It was chosen because it had the lowest call volume in the city.
The recent rash in overdoses hasn’t affected the division’s ability to respond to calls because its staffing is robust in January due to a lack of vacation requests, Heimlich said.
“The impact has been abated somewhat by that,” he said. “If this was June or July, there would be no question in my mind, (the rash of overdoses) would’ve had a bigger impact on that.”
If the rash of overdoses continue, Heimlich said it could affect local safety forces ability to purchase Narcan. First responders typically use a nasal version of the product to revive patients before being taken to the emergency room, sometimes using multiple doses.
The demand for the drug has increased because it’s now available to the public, Heimlich said.
“It put a uniquely rapid demand on the production for Narcan,” he said. “They’re still recovering from that.”
Narcan also does nothing to address the addiction, Heimlich said. He’d like to see more money spent on treatment programs.
“The problem is much larger than Narcan and first responders,” Heimlich said. “The worst thing we can do after the 30-day clean period is to send them back into the same environment with the same people and their addiction hasn’t gone away yet. They need extended treatment and counseling.”
The state health department is expected to replenish the county’s supply of Narcan kits this week, Patterson said.
Earlier this month, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed into law a measure to combat the heroin and opiate addiction in Ohio, including requiring pharmacy technicians to register with the Ohio Board of Pharmacy and limit opiate prescriptions.
Despite investing almost $1 billion a year to fight drug abuse and addiction, accidental overdoses claimed 3,050 lives in Ohio in 2015, up 20.5 percent over 2014.
The rash of overdoses is worse than ever, said Springfield Soup Kitchen operator Fred Stegner. It’s the third round of overdoses since late December, he said.
Stegner had three overdoses at the Soup Kitchen last year and purchased Narcan kits in case of more overdoses.
Stegner received several calls for assistance from clients last weekend who were struggling with the disease. The drug is so powerful addicts continue to shoot up despite the consequences, including death, he said.
“They know this could be the end, the last one,” Stegner said. “They don’t care.”
FIVE NEWS-SUN MUST READS
By the numbers
50: Drug overdose-related cases at the Springfield Regional Medical Center last weekend.
6: Suspected drug overdose deaths this month, including three last weekend.
68: The number of drug overdose deaths in Clark County through November 2016.
73: The number of drug overdose deaths in Clark County in 2015.
Staying with the story
The Springfield News-Sun has written extensively about the drug epidemic in Clark County, including recent stories on the state’s effort to curb heroin and opiate addiction.