Opiate overdose deaths nearly tripled last year in Lake County, primarily due to a spike in deaths caused by fentanyl, statistics show.

The Lake County Coroner’s Office attributed 72 deaths last year to heroin, fentanyl or a combination of the two drugs. That’s up from the 28 people killed by those drugs in 2015 and the 27 who died in 2014, the coroner’s office said.

“It is clear that we have an epidemic of opiate abuse in Lake County, so we need address the problem as the public health crisis it is,” Ron H. Graham, the commissioner of the Lake County General Health District, said Wednesday in a statement. “The increased number of lives lost in 2016 is heartbreaking.”

Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opiate analgesic that is often mixed with heroin, was a factor in the majority of opiate overdose deaths in 2016. Forty people died after overdosing on fentanyl and 22 died after overdosing on a combination of heroin and fentanyl, the coroner’s office said.

Those numbers show a steep increase over the 10 people who fatally overdosed on fentanyl and the six people killed by a combination of heroin and fentanyl in 2015. Fentanyl caused more than a third of the unintentional drug overdose deaths in Ohio in 2015, the state’s Department of Health said in a report. Statistics for 2016 are not yet available.

Heroin overdose deaths plateau

Ten people died after overdosing on heroin last year in Lake County. That is a small decrease from the 12 who died in 2014, the coroner’s office said. The coroner’s office recorded 27 heroin overdose deaths in 2014. But the office did separate heroin and fentanyl overdose deaths that year.

Synthetic opiates in Lake County

The Lake County Crime Lab detected the animal sedative carfentanil and 3-methylfentanyl, a more powerful version of fentanyl, more than a dozen times last year while testing drug samples. Carfentanil was linked to at least one overdose death, the coroner’s office said.

Carfentanil, which is 100 times more powerful than fentanyl and 2,500 times more powerful than heroin, was linked to a spike in overdose deaths last year in Summit County. Carfentanil has also been detected in Cuyahoga County.

The opiate crisis in Northeast Ohio

Lake County is not the only Northeast Ohio county to see a spike in overdose deaths last year. In Cuyahoga County, the medical examiner’s office attributed more than 500 deaths to drug overdoses, with opioids claiming the lion’s share.

But Lake County has confirmed just two opiate overdose deaths from January 2017, Coroner Mark K. Komar said Wednesday.”I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it might be a harbinger of a decline in the epidemic,” Komar said. “But it’s a little early to tell.”

Published by the Cleveland Plain Dealer