Ohio morgue brings in trailer to handle surge in overdose victims

A coroner in Ohio over the weekend was forced to bring in a cold-storage trailer to accommodate an influx in overdose deaths — a problem that has plagued other counties in Ohio that have been hit particularly hard by the country's current heroin and opioid epidemic.

Nearly half of the bodies at the Stark County morgue this weekend were reportedly victims of drug overdoses. So far this year, the county has seen at least 90 overdose deaths, many of which were related to heroin or other opioids like fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that's about 100 times more powerful than morphine, and carfentanil, a powerful tranquilizer used on elephants and other large animals.

"The new thing this month is mixing meth with carfentanil," Stark County Coroners Investigator Rick Walters told an NBC affiliate.

This is the fourth time in recent months when a coroner in an Ohio county ran out of room at the morgue — nearby counties of Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, and Summit also reportedly required additional cold-storage facilities to store bodies, many of which were of those killed by overdoses.

13 PHOTOS
What opioids do to your health
See Gallery
What opioids do to your health

Opioid painkillers capitalize on our body's natural pain-relief system. We all have a series of naturally produced keys ("ligands") and keyholes ("receptors") that fit together to switch on our brain's natural reward system — it's the reason we feel good when we eat a good meal or have sex, for example. But opioids mimic the natural keys in our brain — yes, we all have natural opioids! When they click in, we can feel an overwhelming sense of euphoria.

Photo credit: Getty 

Opioid painkillers can have effects similar to heroin and morphine, especially when taken in ways other than prescribed by a doctor.

When prescription painkillers act on our brain's pleasure and reward centers, they can make us feel good. More importantly, though, they can work to reinforce behavior, which in some people can trigger a repeated desire to use.

Photo credit: Getty 

You may also feel sleepy.

Opioids act on multiple brain regions, but when they go to work in the locus ceruleus, a brain region involved in alertness, they can make us sleepy. Why? The drugs essentially put the brakes on the production of a chemical called norepinephrine, which plays a role in arousal.

Photo credit: Getty 

Your skin may feel flushed and warm.

Photo credit: Getty 

You'll begin to feel their effects 10 to 90 minutes after use, depending on whether they're taken as directed or used in more dangerous ways.

Some drugmakers design versions of their medications to deter abuse. Extended-release forms of oxycodone, for example, are designed to release slowly when taken as directed. But crushing, snorting, or injecting the drugs can hasten their effects.

It can also be deadly. Between 2000 and 2014, nearly half a million Americans died from overdoses involving opioid painkillers and heroin, a report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. The most commonly prescribed painkillers were involved in more overdose deaths than any other type of the drug.

Photo credit: Getty 

Your breathing will slow as well.

Photo Credit: Getty 

Depending on the method used, the effect can last anywhere from four to 12 hours.

For severe pain, doctors typically prescribe opioid painkillers like morphine for a period of four to 12 hours, according to the Mayo Clinic. Because of their risks, it's important to take prescription painkillers only according to your physician's specific instructions.

Photo Credit: Getty 

Overdosing can stop breathing and cause brain damage, coma, or even death.

2014 report from the American Academy of Neurology estimates that more than 100,000 Americans have died from prescribed opioids since the late 1990s. Those at highest risk include people between 35 and 54, the report found, and deaths for this age group have exceeded deaths from firearms and car crashes.

Photo Credit: Getty 

Combining them with alcohol or other drugs — even when taken according to the directions — can be especially deadly.

Since they slow breathing, combining opioid painkillers with other drugs with similar effects can drastically raise the chances of accidental overdose and death.

Yet they're often prescribed together anyway, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Unfortunately, too many patients are still co-prescribed opioid pain relievers and benzodiazepines [tranquilizers]," the institute said. In 2011, 31% of prescription opioid-related overdose deaths involved these drugs.

Photo credit: Getty 

Abusing opioid painkillers has been linked with abusing similar drugs, like heroin.

A CDC report found that people who'd abused opioid painkillers were 40 times as likely to abuse heroin compared with people who'd never abused them. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that close to half of young people surveyed in three recent studies who'd injected heroin said they'd abused prescription painkillers before they started using heroin.

Photo credit: Getty 

You may also develop a tolerance for the drugs so that you need more to get the same effect over time.

Tolerance to opioid painkillers happens when the brain cells with opioid receptors — the keyholes where the opioids fit — become less responsive to the opioid stimulation over time. Scientists think that this may play a powerful role in addiction.

Photo credit: Getty 

Suddenly stopping the drugs can result in withdrawal symptoms like shakiness, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Taking prescription painkillers for an extended period increases the likelihood that your brain will adapt to them by making less of its own natural opioids. So when you stop taking the drugs, you can feel pretty miserable. For most people, this is uncomfortable but temporary.

But in people who are vulnerable to addiction, it can be dangerous because it can spurn repeated use.

"From a clinical standpoint, opioid withdrawal is one of the most powerful factors driving opioid dependence and addictive behaviors," Yale psychiatrists Thomas Kosten and Tony George write in a 2002 paper in the Journal of Addiction Science & Clinical Practice.

Photo credit: Getty 

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

It's no secret that the U.S. is currently in the throes of a heroin epidemic — according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of overdose deaths from prescription opioids and heroin has quadrupled since 1999. Six out of 10 of all overdose deaths are the result of heroin and other opioids. In 2015, the agency found, opioid overdoses claimed the lives of 91 people per day — and Ohio is leading the country.

More people were killed by opioid overdoses in Ohio than any other state included in the study with 1,444 deaths. That's a nearly 20 percent increase from 2014, when there were 1,208 deaths in the Buckeye State. The state with the second most deaths in 2015 was New York with 1,058 followed by Illinois with 844.

One of the biggest problems with the opioid epidemic has been fentanyl and other fentanyl-class drugs like carfentanil — dealers will often mix fentanyl with heroin, which makes it much more powerful and much more deadly. Most of the illicit fentanyl in the U.S. comes from China, which on March 1 banned the production of certain fentanyl-class opioids, a move that could have rippling effects across continents and among scores of drug users.

"Fentanyl-related compounds represent a significant and deadly component of the current opioid crisis. These actions will undoubtedly save American lives and I would like to thank my Chinese counterparts for their actions on this important issue," Acting Drug Enforcement Administration Administrator Chuck Rosenberg said in a statement last month. "This announcement demonstrates the continued commitment on the part of both our countries to address this threat wherever possible."

As we previously reported, some users aren't as optimistic about China's ban.

"As much as I want to agree with the ban... this won't do anything other than create worse analogs," one user wrote on a Reddit forum about the ban. "If you understand the SARs [structure-activity relationship] of these opioids, you can keep creating new ultra-potent fentanyl derivatives."

7 PHOTOS
Common warnings for over the counter painkiller use
See Gallery
Common warnings for over the counter painkiller use

NSAIDs such as ibuprofen can cause damage to the stomach lining, including the possibility of stomach ulcers.

(Photo via Getty Images)

Any blood thinner can come with excessive risks of bleeding and heart attacks. 

(Photo via Getty Images)

Painkillers with acetaminophen can cause liver damage, and no painkiller should be taken with alcohol.

(Photo by Sally Anscombe via Getty Images)

Kidney problems can arise in patients who generally already have risk factors for kidney failure.

(Photo via Getty Images)

NSAIDs pose a risk of miscarriage when used by women during the first 20 weeks. 

(Photo via Getty Images)

NSAIDs may reduce the effectiveness of some antidepressants. 

(Photo via Getty Images)

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.