The illegal use of Fentanyl has caused the sixth death in Milwaukee County between January 1 and February 11, 2015. It is possible it is also the cause of a seventh death according to the medical examiner. Fentanyl is a very powerful painkiller that contains heroine.
28-year-old doctor and anesthesiology resident at the Medical College of Wisconsin was the latest victim. He was found dead on February 11 in the bathroom of the apartment he shared with his wife in Milwaukee’s Third Ward. Dr. Nathan Orlofsky’s death was ruled an accident according the medical examiner. Hospital-grade supplies were found near Orlofsky’s body, such as needles, two empty vials of hydromorphine and tourniquets. The test results from the medical examiner did not show any morphine in Orlofsky’s system. The doctor died of a Fentanyl and midazolam mix. Midazolam is a drug that makes patients sleepy before surgery and Fentanyl puts patients under for surgery and high levels of pain.
Brian Peterson, Medical Examiner, concerned over the number of deaths by overdose, talked to civic leaders and law enforcement about preventing drug overdoses. Illegal drug use, especially pharmaceutical grade drugs, spans the social and economic classes. Dr. Orlofsky’s overdose shines a bright light on the drug abuse problem with anesthesiologists.
Maureen Mack, a spokeswoman for the Medical College of Wisconsin made a statement saying officials do not know where Dr. Orlofsky got the drugs. She also said the college does not make comments concerning ongoing investigations. She did say, however, that there are checks and balances preventing drugs being stolen. When asked if those checks and balances had been altered due to the case. Mack said employees are drug tested as needed and residency policies are reviewed regularly.
The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), is “Investigating the diversion of pharmaceutical drugs to illicit sources.” A spokesman for the DEA declined to comment if the circumstances surrounding Dr. Orlofsky’s death were also being investigated. According to Lieutenant Mark Stanmeyer, the local police department investigated and closed the case. There is no reason to believe that he was given the drugs. Residents, as Orlofsky was, are not given hospital privileges and are supervised by attending physicians. Residents make rotations through Medical College-affiliated hospitals. These hospitals are Froedtert, the Zablocki Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Neither Orlofsky’s father nor wife cared to comment.
In two different studies conducted 15 years apart there are high rates of drug use among anesthesiology residents, over other specialties. In a ten-year period, 80 percent of the anesthesiology residency programs in the United States, have experienced drug impaired residents and 19 percent experienced a minimum of one death. Anesthesiologists going into treatment, had a preference for opioids. Fentanyl and Sufentanil topped the list in 2008. The high rate of drug abuse among anesthesiologists is attributed to the ease of access.
There were six, Fentanyl-related deaths in as many weeks. A seventh person, Eldrew Wardlaw, 39, could possibly be a seventh. He died March 4 but only initial test results are known so far. 26 people in Milwaukee County have died due to some sort of overdose since January 1, 2015. Three of those deaths were heroin overdoses. Last year there were 119 fatal heroin overdoses in the county. Last year there were more deaths from heroin than from homicides or car crashes for the first time in the county.
In some of these deaths, the users believed the Fentanyl to be heroin. Fentanyl, however, is 50 times stronger. Due to this fact, the DEA issued a nationwide alert concerning the dangers of Fentanyl as well as Fentanyl analogues/compounds. Deaths due to overdose are sweeping the country at a fast pace. This pharmaceutical-grade compound is a threat to public health and safety according to DEA administer Michele M. Leonhart. These drugs contain heroin and are created in illegal, secret labs and can be up to 100 times stronger than morphine and 30 to 50 times stronger than heroin.
Reports from the National Forensic Laboratory Information System, state and local labs reported 3344 submissions of Fentanyl in 2014 and it reported 942 in 2013. The DEA has also discovered 15 other Fentanyl compounds. The Schedule II drug can be lethal at low doses by itself. The DEA says that even 0.25 mg can be lethal. It has euphoric effects that make it appear as though it is morphine or heroin. However, this drug can be absorbed through the skin and inhaled when in contact. This is a safety hazard for law enforcement.
It is important for parents, caregivers, teachers, law enforcement and the community to be vigilant and educate others of the dangers of this drug and any other illegal use of drugs. In 2014, the DEA reports there was a significant amount of Fentanyl involved operations. Northeast California’s involvement included a 12-kg seizure. Fentanyl that causes seizures started in the Mexican drug trafficking.
In the past two years, Fentanyl abuse has also increased globally. It is believed that the precursor chemicals to make the drug compounds have been coming from Mexico, Japan, Germany and China.
1000 U.S. deaths between 2005 and 2007 were Fentanyl related. These deaths occurred in Chicago, Philadelphia and Detroit. That strain came from a single lab in Mexico. The surge of deaths ended once that lab was found and shut down.
The DEA is reporting another surge of Fentanyl- related deaths. The state laboratory in New Hampshire, had four deaths in a two month period. New Jersey had a spike in deaths involving the drug in 2014, claiming 80 deaths in six months. Rhode Island and Pennsylvania had 200 reported deaths in 15 months. In St. Louis, Fentanyl was the primary drug in 44 percent of overdose cases in a ten-year time span. In 2014, a heroin and Fentanyl network was taken down by the DEA in New York. The two leaders were arrested and were linked to a minimum of three deaths from Fentanyl overdoses.
By Jeanette Smith
Photo courtesy of Kevin McManus – Flickr License