Carfentanil and Current Opioid Trends in Summit County, Ohio
Kristy Waite, Amy Deeken, Steve Perch, Lisa J. Kohler
ABSTRACT: Introduction: The Summit County Medical Examiner’s Office (SCMEO) observed 52 unexplained deaths during the month of July 2016 in which drug overdose was suspected. A fentanyl screening immunoassay performed on autopsy specimens was positive, but gas chromatograph/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) failed to confirm its presence. Carfentanil, a large wildlife tranquilizer, was later identified through reference lab testing as the cause of the sudden increase in overdoses.
Methods: Due to the large volume of cases which followed, a method for identifying carfentanil was developed utilizing in-house instrumentation. In addition, a retrospective analysis for all drug overdose cases was conducted through the SCMEO database from January 2009 through December 2016.
Results: Assessment of the data revealed a 277% increase in yearly overdose-related fatalities when comparing 2009 to 2016. Carfentanil was not identified in any other fatal drug overdoses in the area before the first appearance in Akron in July of 2016. There was an initial spike of 35 deaths in both July and August, which then decreased to 12 deaths in December. There was an almost equal distribution of carfentanil as a single agent and carfentanil mixed with multiple other illicit drugs.
Discussion: Current observations suggest carfentanil concentrations in overdose cases are decreasing; however, it may be present in combination with other drugs, especially other fentanyl analogs. The lower concentrations of carfentanil are much more difficult to detect in urine and peripheral blood, therefore making the testing of scene paraphernalia, central blood, and organ tissue more of a necessity.