By Lisa Adams
ERIE, Pa. (Erie News Now) – In listening to emergency dispatch transmissions, our news team noticed a recent jump in rescue calls for drug overdose cases.
We did a little digging and learned that those calls are the result of a deadly trend of the drug fentanyl mixed with other drugs including cocaine and methamphetamine.
Police and the coroner are concerned. So are parents and families impacted by the loss of a loved one to these deadly combinations.
Basically they say people buying and using drugs have no idea what they’re getting. But the local statics show that 80% of the time you can bet there’s fentanyl mixed in — and it can kill in seconds.
“Fentanyl is still the number one killer and that’s increasing every single year,” said Erie County Coroner Lyell Cook.
The longtime coroner has seen it all, but he’s troubled by fentanyl creeping into the majority of drug deaths, lately laced into cocaine and methamphetamine.
“It’s incredibly disconcerting to see how much fentanyl there is and I’ve often said I don’t understand why they would sell people fentanyl knowing
that it’s going to kill them,” Cook added.
Pennsylvania State Police are seeing the same trend in the drug deaths they investigate. “It is very deadly,” Trooper Andrew Hacke said, “and unfortunately you know 23% of the overdose cases that we go to do result in death, so we’re talking about a quarter of the overdose cases that we end up at and fentanyl is usually involved within those cases.”
Trooper Hacke, Community Services Officer for the state police, says the mix of drugs with fentanyl might be lethal for a even a hardened drug user, but for a beginner? “Unfortunately when you have somebody that doesn’t have that tolerance built up and they get that same kind of drug that was delivered to them, it’s when it becomes a fatal dose for them,” Hacke said.
Coroner Cook has just compiled the drug death statistics for 2021. He said that of 102 drug deaths investigated last year, many of the people had lethal levels of multiple drugs in their system, but fentanyl figured in 80% of those deaths. Meth was a factor in 35% of the deaths, cocaine was a factor in 26% of the deaths while heroin, once the big concern locally has dropped to just 6%
Meth wasn’t showing up at all in drug deaths in 2018 and 2019 and the presence of fentanyl then was 20% lower than now, at about 60-63%.
Already in 2022 the Erie County Coroner’s office is investigating 22 drug deaths and that pattern of lethal mixes involving a lot of cocaine, meth and fentanyl is continuing. “We’ve yet to have a single drug death, all of ours are polypharmacy which means there’s more than one drug, the average toxicology we get right now is anywhere from 7 to 9 and as many as 20 separate drugs in a person’s system,” Coroner Cook said.
The coroner’s advice when he talks to people, just say no. “I tell them if you take fentanyl you’re going to die, There’s no wiggle room, you’re going to die.”