TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - It's a drug that can be 50 to 100 times stronger than heroin. Fentanyl is traditionally a potent opioid analgesic used for chronic pain management or anesthesia in medical settings, but it's long-appealed to heroin users in order to achieve a better high.
Use of the drug has been prevalent in recent months in Lucas County; the Coroner's Office says it's seen more than 20 individuals who have died from overdosing on Fentanyl last month alone. Experts say the drug is a startling new trend that's been released on the streets and referred to there as 'ice cream.'
"It's completely safe and very effective in that (medical) setting, but when you start playing doctor on yourself, messing around with those drugs..." said Dr. Robert Forney of the Lucas County Coroner's Office. "They (the victims) fit the same profile; mostly 80 to 85 percent are white men in their 30's and 40's."
Members of the Lucas County Sherriff's Office Drug Abuse Response (DART) Team have also seen a rise in heroin overdoses along with newer drug trends.
"It's still on the rise; we are seeing multiple overdoses occurring with the same person," said Lt. Bobby Chromik of the Lucas County DART Team.
Earlier this year, Dr. Forney says he began finding traces of fentanyl along with heroin in overdose victims; however, he's now concerned that drug dealers are in over their heads, dealing a potent, deadly drug to customers in high doses.
"A lot of these cases are (people) literally d ropping dead," said Dr. Forney. "The syringe is in the arm... you see that it's a rapid death. To suddenly have accidental deaths, not suicidal intention as we can tell, with fantastic fentanyl doses and the material being very high in concentration, it's really troubling. It's as if someone wants these people dead."
The fact that deadly doses of fentanyl are on the streets of Toledo could indicate that the drug may be a part of the next chapter in the city's heroin epidemic, along with being a public health and safety issue.
"If you have one or maybe a couple (victims) that would be one thing, but we've had well over 20 in just a few weeks. They're injecting lethal doses and there are several of these," said Dr. Forney, who also believes drug dealers may be selling fentanyl without knowledge of how potent it is, or how to administer a safe dose.
"My message is: if you can't quit, at least be careful. There are a lot of people that are at risk," he said.
Dr. Forney and the Lucas County Coroner's Office has since begun meeting with law enforcement from the Toledo Police Department and the Lucas County Sheriff's Office to promote awareness about the deadly issue.