CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner Thomas Gilson says that while the number of heroin overdose deaths was down in 2015, there's a new "dangerous development" in NE Ohio's illegal drug arena.
Gilson said that the number of heroin overdose deaths in 2015 went down by seven percent from 2014. This represents the first decline in heroin fatalities since 2006, he said.
But at the same time, the number of fentanyl-related deaths tripled from 37 to 89 from 2014 to 2015. Fentanyl is a much, much more potent drug, he said.
But alarmingly, said Gilson, January was a "particularly disturbing months for us." It was the first month that the number of fentanyl deaths was about equal to the number of heroin deaths. There were 19 fentanyl deaths and 21 heroin deaths, he said.
"That's roughly one person a day dying (from the overdoses)," he said. "We've not seen that before."
And Gilson said that in a new trend, fentanyl is being sold in a form that is a "look-alike" for oxycodone. Gilson said officials hadn't seen fentanyl in pill form before this past January.
"These two drugs are both narcotics, they are both abused by the same population, but fentanyl is a far more lethal drug. Buying medications off the street is a dangerous practice at any time but now more than ever, an individual buying oxycodone to abuse really may be buying something far more than they ever expected."
He called it a "horrifying trick to play on anybody to sell this drug as something far less lethal, because it will wind up esp if you take a dose comparable...ending your life."
Gilson said he's wondering if the spike in January is due to these fake pills.
But Gilson also added that Naloxone, which is an antidote for both fentanyl and heroin, was responsible for saving 166 people in 2015.
"The problem is getting worse but our ability to address it is improving," he said.
Authorities previously said that heroin overdoses are killing more young people in Ohio than car crashes. The heroin scourge has prosecutors intensifying efforts to identify, charge and imprison people who provide the drug.