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Opioid epidemic entered new dangerous territory: it’s been found in marijuana

A legal marijuana crop in Uruguay.
Matilde Campodonico
A legal marijuana crop in Uruguay.

In October, police in Plymouth responded to an overdose. They administered the lifesaving medicine Narcan and the adult was revived. But the overdose survivor said they hadn’t taken any opioids, like painkillers or heroin. They had used marijuana.

The Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, Division of Scientific Services Forensic Lab analyzed a sample obtained by police and confirmed the presence of fentanyl earlier this week.

Plymouth Police Captain Edward Benecchi says fentanyl-laced marijuana is something law enforcement has looked into for a long time.

“So for us to actually finally get [a sample], it’s confirmation to law enforcement that ‘yes this does happen’, now what do we need to do about it?” Benecchi asked.

Since July, there have been over 40 cases where first responders administered Narcan to someone who reported consuming only marijuana. These cases were not isolated to Plymouth. There were no lab analyses for these cases.

However, Plymouth police officers were able to get a specimen of the marijuana, which was purchased through the black market, from this overdose case, and that allowed them to confirm the presence of fentanyl.

Connecticut public health officials are warning residents about the presence of fentanyl in a supply of marijuana.

The Connecticut Department of Health said in a statement that lab-confirmation of this connection is a first for the state, and possibly the country.

“It’s kind of hard to say that this is an isolated incident,” Benecchi said, and that’s due in part to the trend of suspected cases in the last few months.

Benecchi recommends that those who want to consume marijuana go to a dispensary in Massachusetts, where there’s a much more rigorous process of tracking and accountability.

Maria Coutant-Skinner is the CEO of the McCall Center for Behavioral Health and Help in Torrington. She says those who plan to consume black market marijuana should not rely on fentanyl testing strips to make sure their cannabis is clean.

She sees this discovery, and the grim milestone the country reached this week of 100,000 drug-related deaths in a 12-month period, as an opportunity to destigmatize the opioid overdose antidote, Narcan.

“We can normalize in every first aid kit, in every house that there is Narcan,” she said, and that could make a difference on the opioid epidemic. Between April 2020 and April 2021, the U.S. lost the more people to drug-related deaths than any other time, according to reporting from the Washington Post.

Coutant-Skinner emphasized a multi-pronged approach to harm reduction in response to both bits of news. She recommended getting Narcan from a trained prescriber, educating yourself about the signs of overdose and how to administer Narcan, and calling 911 after the fact because the medicine is only a temporary measure. Additional resources about overdose prevention and treatment can be found here.

The following overdose awareness trainings are free and open to the public:

  • December 8 at 6pm, Burlington Public Library, 34 Library Lane, Burlington, CT 06013
  • December 14 at 3:30pm, Torrington Public Library, 12 Daycoeton Place, Torrington, CT 06790
Ali Oshinskie is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. She loves hearing what you thought of her stories or story ideas you have so please email her at aoshinskie@ctpublic.org.

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