by Steve Birr
The recent death of an Ohio police chief was the result of a fentanyl overdose, an autopsy report released Friday by a local coroner determined.
Authorities in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, found Kirkersville Police Chief James Hughes Jr. dead in the bathroom of his home on May 25, along with a plastic sandwich bag containing cocaine residue and two syringes that later tested positive for fentanyl, a synthetic opioid roughly 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. Hughes was police chief for little more than two months before his death, reported WCMH.
The autopsy report, issued by the Franklin County Coroner’s Office, said Hughes died from “acute intoxication by fentanyl,” which they found to be the result of an accidental overdose.
Hughes’s death is the second tragedy to befall the Kirkersville Police Department in the past year. The community lost Chief Steven Eric DiSario in May 2017 after he was fatally shot while responding to a hostage situation.
The coroner’s report underscores the dire nature of the opioid crisis spreading across the state. Ohio currently has the second largest drug overdose death rate in the country, trailing only West Virginia. Nearly 40 in 100,000 people die from drug-related overdoses in Ohio.
The state lost 4,329 residents to drug overdoses in 2016, a 24 percent increase over 2015, fueled by the flood of synthetic opioids like fentanyl that continue to pour into the country. The number of opioid deaths would be much higher without the presence of the overdose reversal drug naloxone, officials say. Ohio first responders administered roughly 43,000 doses of naloxone in 2016.
Data released by officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Wednesday shows the majority of opioid-linked deaths are now the result of synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
The report shows synthetic opioids killed roughly 27,000 people across the U.S. over the 12-month period ending November 2017, up from roughly 19,413 lives in 2016 and 9,580 lives in 2015. The sharp increase prompted a Health Alert Network warning from CDC officials advising of the ever-increasing presence of synthetic opioids in the drug supply, including in non-opioid narcotics such as cocaine.
“The dramatic rise in the supply of illicitly manufactured fentanyl and fentanyl analogs has been mirrored by an equally dramatic rise in deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone, a category which includes fentanyl and fentanyl analogs,” officials said in the report, according to NBC News. “This 12-month sum of synthetic opioid overdose deaths exceeds the total number of all opioid overdose deaths in 2013, when deaths involving synthetic opioids first began to climb.”
The health alert warns that first responders may not be aware of the amount of synthetic opioids floating around drug supplies in their community. It says patients suffering opioid overdoses may require increased care and “prolonged dosing of naloxone in the ED hospital setting due to a delayed toxicity that has been reported in some cases.”
Nationally, drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death for Americans under age 50, killing more than 64,000 people in 2016.