City task force to warn users of tainted drugs

Of­fi­cials to iden­tify fen­tanyl hot spots, is­sue warn­ings

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Mered­ith Cohn mered­ith.cohn@balt­sun.com

When drug users buy heroin on the streets of Baltimore, they don’t know whether it also con­tains fen­tanyl, a syn­thetic painkiller so pow­er­ful that small amounts can kill.

Now the city plans to tell them when and where the heroin is likely to be adul­ter­ated.

By us­ing real-time over­dose data from emer­gency re­spon­ders, city health of­fi­cials plan to iden­tify fen­tanyl hot spots and head there with warn­ings. They will in­form providers of drug treat­ment and ser­vices to the home­less, area res­i­dents and oth­ers, who can share the in­for­ma­tion with drug users or peo­ple who know them.

The city health depart­ment spear­headed cre­ation of a fen­tanyl task force, which brings to­gether rep­re­sen­ta­tives of sev­eral city agen­cies.

“It’s so dan­ger­ous that get­ting ahead of this as much as we can is cru­cial,” health depart­ment spokesman Sean Naron said. “Users are very scared of fen­tanyl, but they don’t al­ways know it’s there.”

The num­ber of fen­tanyl-re­lated fa­tal over­doses in Baltimore in­creased ten­fold from 2013 to 2015. The city suf­fered 260 heroin-re­lated over­dose deaths last year and 160 fen­tanyl-re­lated deaths.

The U.S. Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion be­lieves the fen­tanyl is made in labs over­seas and mixed into heroin here be­cause it is cheaper. A dose sold as heroin can be en­tirely fen­tanyl.

The task force is the lat­est move by the city and state health de­part­ments to counter ris­ing over­dose deaths. Of­fi­cials have sought to in­crease ac­cess to treat­ment and have trained an army of pri­vate cit­i­zens to use the opi­oid over­dose an­ti­dote nalox­one.

City of­fi­cials have urged opi­oid users to avoid tak­ing the drugs alone so some­one is able to re­vive them with nalox­one if they over­dose.

“Over­doses con­tinue to kill more peo­ple in our city than homi­cide, and qual­ity, on-de­mand treat­ment re­mains out of reach for the vast ma­jor­ity of those suf­fer­ing from ad­dic­tion,” Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore’s health com­mis­sioner, said in a state­ment. “We would never tol­er­ate this for any other dis­ease, so we must strengthen our ef­forts to en­sure that no more lives are lost to this dev­as­tat­ing dis­ease that af­fects in­di­vid­u­als, fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties.”

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