This long July Fourth weekend marks the second anniversary of carfentanil’s deadly arrival in Summit County.

The number of drug overdoses here quadrupled overnight and the death rate soared.

Since then, there has been a steady decline of overdoses. Between June 22 and June 28, 21 people sought emergency room help after overdosing in the area, or about three per day, according to the latest information provided by Summit County Public Health.

At the same time, the wait time for addicts seeking help has plummeted, said Jerry Craig, executive director of the county’s Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health (ADM) board.

Recently, only four of the 28 county detox beds were claimed while the wait for inpatient treatment has dropped from a couple of months to 10 to 17 days, he said.

Yet the numbers may not show the full story of the opioid crisis, Craig cautioned.

“My concern is, I don’t believe the problem is any better,” Craig said Friday. “I think people are less panicked about getting into treatment.”

A report released last week by the Ohio Substance Abuse Monitoring Network — as part of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Service — offered the most recent glimpse into drugs and drug use in the Akron-Canton region and areas across the state.

Among other things, it shows that the opioid crisis continues to evolve into a broader drug crisis across the state involving synthetic opioids, methamphetamines, cocaine, suped-up marijuana and other drugs.

In the Akron-Canton region, fentanyl availability climbed as access to prescription opioids declined.

“It’s easier to find than weed,” one user from the Akron-Canton region told researchers. “Most people who deal crack, deal heroin. It’s epidemic.”

The biannual report — which reflects trends between June 2017 and January 2018 — breaks the state into eight regions. Akron-Canton includes Summit, Stark, Portage, Tuscarawas and Carroll counties.

Other findings

Here are some of the findings in our area:

• Professionals who work with addicts believe heroin use plateaued with fentanyl.

• Many here view methamphetamine use as just as much of an epidemic as opioids.

• Users report that marijuana use is now as socially acceptable as drinking alcohol.

People who work with addicts in our region reported clients telling them that they now prefer to use fentanyl and carfentanil over heroin.

That’s backed up in the report by what Summit County law enforcement told researchers: The first time that users buy carfentanil, they don’t know it. They think they’re buying heroin and just call it “dope,” the unnamed officer said in the report.

Afterward, however, heroin won’t work for them. Once they’ve tried carfentanil, that’s what they want.

Meth in our region, meanwhile, is booming. Mexican drug cartels have brought it in, the report said.

Locals are not only buying it here to use, they’re reselling it for a profit.

An ounce of meth in the Akron-Canton region sells for $600 to $650. Every day, the report said, people buy the drugs here and then sell them in West Virginia for twice the price — $1,200 to $1,300 an ounce.

“We are completely flooded” with meth, law enforcement for our area said in the report. “That’s what’s going to eventually push heroin out.”

In Summit County, home-cooked meth — often called “shake and bake” — continues to be available, too.

“You got to know the right people, but it’s out there,” a drug user said in the report. “Bikers, truckers, they always have it.”

During the last six months of 2017, law enforcement, drug users and health officials say that there has been an increase in the availability of marijuana and much of it is both cheaper and more powerful than anything available before.

People are home-growing marijuana with hydroponic systems and illegally importing it from states where it’s legally sold. High-grade marijuana extracts and concentrates — often called “wax” or “dabs” — have also appeared in the Akron-Canton region.

These drugs are made by heating high-grade marijuana with butane and extracting the active chemical in cannabis, THC, and turning it into a brown, waxy, hard or oily substance, the report said.

Most of what’s contained in the drug report backs up what Summit County officials observed here late last year, the ADM’s Craig said.

Business, for instance has picked up at Summit County’s mental health crisis center while, at the same time, it’s dropped off at its detox center.

Craig said that’s likely because meth use is on the rise. Unlike opioids, which slow down a body’s functions, meth speeds up functions and can create a psychosis that is often indistinguishable from mental illness.

People high on meth often first end up at the county’s mental health crisis center until staff diagnose their psychosis as drug-related, he said. Then, the drug user is stabilized and moved into drug treatment, he said.

Perception of harm

The Beacon Journal has reported that some opioid users have turned to meth because they believe it’s safer than fentanyl or carfentanil, which is often disguised as heroin on the streets.

That’s true, Craig said, but some people are also using meth because they think it lessens withdrawal symptoms from opioids or because meth — which speeds up the body — might prevent them from overdosing on opioids. One surprise in the report, Craig said, was the high THC-level marijuana coming into Greater Akron from Colorado, where it’s legal and the widespread acceptance of marijuana here.

“When the perception of harm decreases, use increases,” Craig said.

Buying high-grade weed isn’t cheap. In the Akron-Canton region, a quarter ounce of standard marijuana sells for $30 to $50, the report said. The same amount of high grade costs $60 to $100.

“You’re not getting [a crappy] bag of weed, you’re getting weed that sparkles, that tastes good,” one user told people putting together the report. “It depends on if it’s government made [sanctioned by a state] or civilian made ... government made is the better stuff.”

Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or agarrett@thebeaconjournal.com.