Carfentanil — an elephant tranquilizer that devastated Greater Akron in 2016 — has suddenly resurfaced in Ohio’s two largest counties.
Both the Cuyahoga County medical examiner and Franklin County coroner warned in recent days that they’ve discovered an uptick in the deadly opioid.
So far, Summit County hasn’t seen a spike.
Overdose numbers for the most recent week available — Feb. 1-7 — showed that the number of Summit County residents seeking emergency room help for overdoses plummeted to 13.
That’s close to what had been the weekly rate of overdoses here before the opioid crisis soared over the long July Fourth holiday weekend of 2016.
Until then, many Americans had never heard of the synthetic opioid carfentanil. Like fentanyl, it’s a painkiller. But it’s 10,000 times as powerful as morphine and about 100 times more powerful than fentanyl.
A speck of carfentanil can kill a human.
Akronites who thought they were snorting or shooting heroin suddenly began overdosing in cars, on streets and with groups of families and friends inside homes. Between July 5 and July 26, 2016, Akron paramedics responded to 236 overdoses in the city.
The medical examiner ran out of space during the crisis and for months rented refrigerated trailers to hold the bodies of people who overdosed and died.
Overdoses slowly declined over the next two years, but Summit County officials have always feared a resurgence of carfentanil.
Dr. Thomas Gibson, Cuyahoga County medical examiner, was the first to sound the warning last week in Ohio.
On Thursday, he said the county’s regional forensic lab reported a significant increase in carfentanil powder and tablets seized so far in 2019.
“The re-appearance of carfentanil in the local illicit drug supply is alarming," Gibson said in a prepared statement.
It’s not only dangerous for anyone using it, he warned, but anyone exposed to it.
Dr. Anahi M. Ortiz, Franklin County coroner, followed up on Friday with a warning there.
Greater Columbus ended 2018 with good news: No carfentanil-related overdose deaths there during during the last three months of the year and only six for the entire year.
But 2019 brought new trouble. Three people died of carfentanil overdoses in January alone, Ortiz said.
Summit on alert
The Summit County Medical Examiner’s Office on Friday said it has not seen any apparent carfentanil-related spike in overdoses, though it is monitoring after warnings from nearby Cleveland and Columbus.
Law enforcement has cautioned that carfentanil never left Summit County altogether, despite a significant decline in overdoses.
In Akron, for example, three 20-year-old women celebrating one of their birthdays in April overdosed and died in Firestone Park last year.
Toxicology tests revealed months later that Tara Williams, Ashtyn Andrade and Courtney Collier had a mix of carfentanil and MDMA — a popular party drug more commonly known as “ecstasy” or “molly” — in their systems.
Where the women got the drugs is not clear, but public health officials continue to fight addiction while law enforcement pulls dealers off the streets.
Last week, an Akron man pleaded not guilty in federal court to charges of possessing and intending to to sell cocaine and fentanyl.
He wasn’t caught after an elaborate investigation but a routine traffic stop.
Court records show Akron police pulled over Lexington G. Jacobs on Dec. 9 after seeing him make an improper left turn from the wrong lane.
Jacobs, 24, initially told police he had a temporary driver’s permit, but didn’t have it with him, court records said. But police learned Jacobs had a suspended license and arrested him.
An officer leading him to a cruiser noticed Jacobs was walking strangely, with his “feet very close together, an indicator of someone attempting to conceal or hold something in their pants,” court records said.
At the police station, officers strip-searched Jacobs and said they found one small plastic bag with 6 grams of cocaine, a second bag with about 12 grams of fentanyl and $1,232 in cash.
Jacobs — who was wearing a GPS ankle monitor placed there by the Ohio Adult Parole Authority — was no stranger to the justice system.
Court records show he had faced five other felony cases in Summit County since 2011.
“How much dope was F-5?” Jacobs asked officers after he was searched, wondering aloud if what he would face a level 5 felony or a level 3 felony, court records said.
After officers told him, and before he knew the case would got to federal court, Jacobs appeared resigned.
“I know I’m going back to prison now,” Jacobs said, according to court records.
Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or firstname.lastname@example.org.