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'We have a class of super-humans out there'

Zoe Greszler • May 22, 2018 at 2:00 AM

As the casualties mount in the opioid epidemic, one substance stands as the main culprit for the spike in deaths — carfentanil. And in Huron County, the drug has shown no signs of going away. 

After releasing the 2017 annual coroner’s report — which showed 28 overdose deaths in Huron County — Huron County Coroner Dr. Jeffrey Harwood said the use of fentanyl and its related substances increased dramatically over the past year. 

“Looking at now, compared 10 years ago, it’s clearly the fentanyl analogs (causing overdose deaths),” he said.

“Rehab people will tell you this — heroin is bad; but you have more opportunity to survive, get help and hopefully recover from heroin. With fentanyl and carfentanyl, your window of safety is not that great. People are not getting the chance to participate in recovery, like they would even with alcoholism. The overdose rate is pretty high. With carfentanil you don’t get a lot of second chances.”

Harwood said the danger is so high because drug users never know exactly what they’re getting themselves into. The coroner also said someone could purchase one batch of drugs that seem to be OK and the next batch they buy could be completely different, and far more potent. 

“With prescription pills, they're regulated by the FDA, so you know exactly what you’re getting,” he said. “Heroin has varying degrees of purity and then they started cutting heroin with other things and now they could be getting straight carfentanyl. It doesn’t come with a scientific label.”

Harwood said, for some, putting their life in jeopardy could be part of the rush, but it’s also a large part of what’s spiking the county’s death rates.

“If you look at drug trafficking as a business, why would you kill off customers?” he said. “But if you look at it as a business of opportunity, people want good stuff. If there’s something that gives a better high and a better rush, and maybe part of that rush is chasing that (overdose-level high) and the risk of something bad happening, there will be people seeking it out.”

That “rush” that users are seeking becomes stronger when the drugs are laced with carfentanil.

“Detective Gillam in Willard spoke to a long-term heroin user, a 20-year user, and he said the first time he tried carfentayl was like the first time he used heroin — he hadn’t felt that high in so long,” he said. “That’s what makes it so addictive and dangerous. It’s like getting the high for the first time.

“There’s no safe dose. The problem is they don’t know what they’re getting in terms of strength. If they think they’re doing heroin and they’re getting a mix or pure carfentanyl, there’s no way for them to judge that. That’s the risk they take each time.”

Really, though, Harwood said there’s no one that should be able to take the fentanyl analogs.

“We have a class of super-humans out there that are so immune to narcotics and that are able to withstand at least a little bit of carfentanil — that’s unheard of,” he added.

He said what starts out as seeking a high turns into something more.

“It’s said of cigarette smoking, when they start looking for pleasure, the high and relaxation of the cigarette,” the coroner said. “But at some point it shifts to trying to avoid withdraw. So in the same way that you start smoking for pleasure, the heroin user starts using for pleasure, to escape the pain of their problems, but then at some point it turns into trying to escape the pain of the withdraw.”

Harwood said he couldn’t have been happier than when he heard the county was getting the Huron County Peer Recovery Center. For him, he said this was the turning point for a hope in the community. 

“I’m a big fan of that peer recovery center on Shady Lane Drive,” he said.

“They’re really working hard. They’re really building numbers there of the people they’re serving and the things and programs they’re offering. I have a (private practice as well) and when I’d have a patient come to me with this issue, I didn’t really have a good place to send them. Now though, I can tell them no matter where you’re at call this number and they’ll figure out what you need and how to help you. That’s good for the physician and the patient.”

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