CLEVELAND - Federal officials are sounding an alarm about a new trend that significantly expands the number of people who may die from an accidental drug overdose.
Until now, officials believed that heroin users were by far at the greatest risk of dying from such an overdose - particularly if they used heroin that had been mixed with fentanyl - an opiate that is much more potent than heroin itself.
While the risk to heroin users has not diminished, the threat may be expanding greatly to people who use other recreational drugs.
"It's our belief that the people who are using cocaine, and overdosing and dying, don't know that there's fentanyl laced into the cocaine, says Carole Rendon, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.
And the threat now expands even past cocaine users.
"We are now seeing fentanyl laced in with marijuana," Rendon says. "And in Painesville, we had three young people who overdosed. Fortunately, it wasn't fatal. They were able to revive them with Narcan (an antidote drug)."
Why the trend is occurring now is unclear. But, with more people dying in Ohio from accidental opiate and heroin overdoses than in any other state, officials are looking for what to do next.
"We as a society have to come up with some new answers," says Lake County Prosecutor Charles Coulson.
Coulson says felonies in Lake County have doubled since 2010 - and he attributes ninety percent of all crime he sees today to drugs.
"It has increased all other crimes substantially," he says, as users commit robberies to feed their habits, and dealers commit violent acts to try to protect their territory.
And authorities are now saying illegal drug use is more dangerous to the user than ever because of the mixing of drugs with fentanyl.
"We don't want people dropping dead in our community," Rendon says, "so it's important to get the word out that there is this new, incredibly dangerous phenomenon out there. And that is people who are using a drug that they think they know how to use, that they think is relatively safe, is not safe."
**Editor's note: After further investigation, the Painesville Twp. Fire Department said, "The people involved in these incidents later admitted to the use of other drugs, in addition to smoking marijuana. Lab results found no evidence of laced marijuana. Lab results did find crack cocaine and other drugs in the residence."