Compassion Reporting on poverty fighting and criminal justice

Something old, something new—and deadly

Compassion | As prescription opioid use declines, fentanyl-laced drugs are on the rise
by Rob Holmes
Posted 4/04/18, 02:35 pm

A deadly mix of the synthetic opioid fentanyl with methamphetamine or cocaine is spiking the number of overdose deaths in Ohio and other states already hit hard by the opioid crisis.

Ohio’s county coroners say the trend of lacing meth or cocaine with illicit, lab-produced Chinese fentanyl—which can be mail-ordered online—creates a substance 50 times more powerful than heroin, which is cultivated and harvested from poppies.

“Today it is more lethal than it ever was,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said of the new concoction. “People don’t really know how potent it is.”

Though authorities have not released final figures from 2017, some populous Ohio counties such as Hamilton, which includes much of Cincinnati, reported increases of as much as 30 to 50 percent in overdoses due to the stimulant-opioid mix. Newtown Police Chief Tom Synan said it demonstrates the success of drug dealers who constantly look for new ways “to make it more potent, more addictive … more money.”

Hamilton County registered 529 overdose deaths for 2016. And 2017 figures from Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County showed nearly five times as many fentanyl-mixed overdoses compared to 2015 (477 deaths).

Fentanyl acts as a central nervous system depressant that slows the heart rate and breathing and lowers blood pressure and body temperature. “Just a quarter-milligram of fentanyl can be deadly,” according to the Oxford Treatment Center near Oxford, Miss.

Last year, CNN reported that East Liverpool, Ohio, Police Officer Chris Green suffered an overdose after making a drug bust when he brushed a bit of fentanyl residue off his uniform with his bare hands and had to be rushed to the hospital.

Marijuana is often seized along with opioids, and marijuana enhanced with fentanyl has alarmed Ohio officials. Hamilton County Coroner Lakshmi Sammarco said she has seen cases of fentanyl mixed with marijuana, and Dayton health officials have already warned local residents about it, forecasting that it may become more than a novelty as dealers seek to hook young people, the Dayton Daily News reported.

Though fentanyl-related deaths have been on the rise, the Ohio Department of Health said deaths due to prescription opioid abuse have declined over the past five years. Following a slew of other state lawsuits, the Ohio attorney general sued five opioid-producing companies last year for making false statements that may have increased the use and prescription of their drugs.

Associated Press/Photo by Elaine Thompson Associated Press/Photo by Elaine Thompson A homeless woman in her van in Kirkland, Wash., earlier this month

Is America experiencing an eviction epidemic?

A recent study blamed the decrease in federal funding for affordable housing since the 1980s for “helping create the modern phenomenon of homelessness.” It noted only a quarter of eligible poor people receive government housing assistance.

Once housing is lost, according to the authors of “Protect Tenants, Prevent Homelessness,” those evicted find diminished opportunities to rent again, creating a cycle in which homelessness is likely. Released by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, the study found 1 in 4 of the poorest quarter of American renters pays nearly 70 percent of household income for housing and utilities.

The authors propose strengthening renters’ rights laws at local, state, and federal levels. They claim this strategy would limit evictions and big rent increases, because landlords would not be able to use source of income, eviction history, or criminal history in choosing tenants, thereby removing those barriers for low-income people.

But increased regulations would more likely drive landlords away from renting to those at the low end of the market, exacerbating the dearth of affordable housing in large metropolitan areas, where rental vacancies are at a historic low.

One key finding could be useful across the country: A 2010 analysis of a New York City United Way initiative, the Housing Help Program, showed that providing counsel to those experiencing a housing crisis “prevented loss of housing for 91 percent of clients and also reduced homelessness.” —R.H.

Associated Press/Photo by Elaine Thompson Associated Press/Photo by Elaine Thompson A Martin Luther King Jr. mural in Seattle

Martin Luther King Jr. on poverty

People around the world remembered Martin Luther King Jr. this week, 50 years after his assassination at a Memphis, Tenn., motel. His civil rights–era causes included poverty fighting. Two of King’s quotes on the subject stand out:

“There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we have the resources to get rid of it.” 

And: 

“Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for ‘the least of these.’” 

The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis is holding daylong tributes and live-streaming a remembrance event. —R.H.

Rob Holmes

Rob is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute’s mid-career course. Follow Rob on Twitter @SouthernFlyer.

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