Experts wary of potent opioids

Carfentanil, a large animal tranquilizer that is being linked with heroin overdose deaths, has not hit local streets – yet, drug officials warned Friday.  A synthetic opioid, carfentanil is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and has been linked to a spate of heroin overdose deaths that occurred last month in West Virginia.  Drug dealers have been adding it to heroin to stretch out batches and to increase potency, according to some news reports.  “It’s so dangerous,” Shane Judy, a Franklin pharmacist and co-chair of the Venango County Drug Overdose Task Force, said at Friday’s monthly task force meeting.  The drug must be manufactured in a laboratory and is being imported from places like China, Judy said.  “This is coming from outside sources,” he said.  So far, the county’s probation officers have not encountered the drug, said probation officer Ed Powell, nor have other county workers.  Judy went on to say the situation is such that some law enforcement officers in Venango County feel personally compelled to carry Narcan, an opioid reversal drug, even if their departments do not.  A recent batch of heroin that made its way through Oil City was very strongly laced with the opioid drug fentanyl, coroner Christina Rugh said at the task force meeting.  “Whatever came through Oil City was bad,” Rugh said. Fentanyl is less powerful than carfentanil but more powerful than morphine.  Another drug – methamphetamine – is creeping back on the scene, Rugh said. Some recent toxicology reports have come back positive for meth, she said.  “I’m going to be seeing that a little more now,” Rugh said.


ER stats

Emergency department personnel reversed five potential drug overdoses with Narcan during August, Heidi Boitnott, unit director of the emergency department at UPMC Northwest, said at the task force meeting.  In one case, a family member administered the lifesaving drug to a patient who had used heroin and cocaine, Boitnott said.  All emergency department staff are trained to use Narcan and the families of loved ones who overdose leave the hospital with a Narcan rescue kit and instructions.  “I was very excited to see one of those rescue kits was used by family,” Boitnott said. “The kits are being used. It really is a good thing,” she added.  Narcan (generic name naloxone) is available to anyone without a prescription. Vouchers for the reversal drug will be available at a table during the upcoming Recovery Celebration in Franklin.  That event, to be held in conjunction with Recovery Month, is planned from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday in Bandstand Park in Franklin.

Drug tracking

Pennsylvania’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program is live and it represents a powerful new tool for pharmacists to use in the fight against drug fraud and abuse, said Judy, who heads up a pharmacist subcommittee to the drug task force.  All pharmacists may register in the PDMP and it allows them to track the prescriptions that a patient has filled and the number of prescribers along with a wealth of other crucial data, he said.  “All of the tools are there in place to really enhance what we’re able to do in the pharmacy setting,” Judy said.  The majority of pharmacists in Venango County know their patients and enjoy a good rapport with them, Judy said. In recent weeks, he reported only one incident of potential abuse.  “Those encounters are fewer and fewer,” he said.  The task force’s pharmacist subcommittee – called the VIPs – is gaining more members and is looking to other states for best practice guidelines that will make them better providers, Judy said.  The state of Maine, for example, has passed a law that limits the amount of opioid drugs that may be prescribed to a patient, he said.  Concerns about yet another class of drugs – the benzodiazepines – are also on pharmacists’ radar, Judy added.  Recent guidelines say that these drugs, which are sold under the brand names Valium, Klonopin, Xanax and others, should not be prescribed with opioid drugs but they frequently are, the pharmacist said.

Teacher outreach

The county has received an increasing number of calls from local teachers who want guidance on dealing with students who have drug and alcohol issues in their homes, said Marie Plumer, the task force chair.  In June, the task force received a visit from two teachers who said that students often turn to their teachers for support but that educators are not trained to deal with those issues.  “I know the teachers are still concerned,” Plumer said, and the group discussed several ways to step up its outreach to them.  State Sen. Scott Hutchinson (R-21st) attended Friday’s meeting and took a moment to thank the task force for their work.  “Thank you for all you do,” Hutchinson said. “You’re going above and beyond and I appreciate that as a community member,” he said.  The next meeting of the drug overdose task force is planned for 10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 14, at the Human Services complex in Franklin.

For help

Anyone who wants more information about substance abuse programs in the county can call Plumer at 432-9163.  Anyone who needs immediate help can call 432-9111.