Why opioid overdose deaths seem to happen in spurts
- At least 14 people fatally overdosed in Ohio’s Cuyahoga County over the weekend
- What’s fueling the opioid epidemic? Experts weigh in on factors and solutions
At least 14 people died of opioid overdoses in Cuyahoga County over the weekend, CNN affiliate WEWS reported.
Already this year, more than 60% of the autopsies conducted at the Montgomery County Coroner’s office in Ohio involved drug overdose deaths — and the office is running out of room for the bodies.
Many of these overdoses were related to the abuse of opioids, a class of drugs that includes powerful prescription painkillers and heroin.
Why do so many opioid overdose deaths across the country appear to occur at once? Experts warn that the answer is more complicated than it may seem.
How fentanyl plays a role
Sometimes, the abuse of opioids can begin when patients are prescribed pain medication in a way that puts them at risk for addiction. As some patients continue to take the medication and enjoy the euphoria that might come with it, it can mark the beginning stages of a deadly addiction.
When drugs are used repeatedly, the body can simultaneously build up a tolerance to opioids and become dependent on them.
Tolerance occurs when the body needs to use more and more to get the same effect. Dependence occurs when a person relies on the drug to prevent withdrawal symptoms.
Many times, a number of overdose deaths can sweep a community in one day and make eyebrow-raising headlines — such as in September, when seven people died from drug overdoses in Cuyahoga County in a mere 24 hours.
But we shouldn’t assume that such deaths are necessarily linked, cautioned Nicholas King, an associate professor at McGill University in Montreal who has studied the factors behind increased opioid-related deaths in the United States and Canada. “We know from historical experience with so-called ‘cancer clusters’ that in many cases the clustering is either the result of confirmation bias, or is simply the result of random chance,” he said.
“That said,” he added, “in some very specific cases, we can identify an underlying cause for multiple opioid overdoses in a short period of time: for example, after the appearance of an illegal drug with unusually high potency.”