Cincinnati sees estimated 78 heroin overdoses in 2 days

FILE - In this Sept. 21, 2010 file photo, a Cleveland police officer looks over bags of heroin at a news conference in Cleveland. As state officials in Ohio look to tackle the issue of prescription drug abuse, the number of opiate overdose deaths in Ohio's largest county in one year mirrors the total statewide a decade ago. The Plain Dealer in Cleveland reports most Cuyahoga County communities have been affected by deaths from prescription painkillers or the street drug heroin. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta, File)

CINCINNATI (AP) — Cincinnati police are asking for the public’s help in trying to identify the source of the suspected heroin behind an estimated 78 overdoses in just two days.

Meanwhile, Hamilton County officials say they will seek funding for treatment and expanded response teams.

County officials are calling the latest onslaught of overdose cases a public health emergency, and county Health Commissioner Tim Ingram says the number of emergency-room incidents over the last six days was “unprecedented.”

Emergency rooms estimate they had 174 suspected opioid overdose cases this week, including three deaths. Last year, accidental drug overdoses killed 3,050 people in Ohio, an average of eight per day, state officials say.

Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black said authorities suspect carfentanil, a drug used to sedate elephants and other large animals, may be mixed in with heroin and causing the overdoses. The drug is 100 times more potent than fentanyl, which is suspected in spates of overdoses in several states.

Last month, carfentanil was discovered in the Cincinnati area’s heroin stream, but many hospitals don’t have the equipment to test blood for the previously uncommon animal opioid.

County Commissioner Dennis Deters said Thursday the expanded teams would include a law enforcement officer, an emergency responder and a specialist who could treat people who’ve overdosed. He said the cost of the beefed-up program hasn’t been determined yet.

Nan Franks of the Addiction Services Council of Cincinnati noted that Cincinnati currently doesn’t have enough places to treat the rising number of drug users who seek help.

“People overwhelmingly want help,” she said. “But we have to have a place to take them.”

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