As recently as five years ago there wasn’t a single fentanyl case in the Lake County Crime Lab.

Now it’s the most commonly seen opioid in the Painesville Township-based lab.

“This trend is noted in other hard hit opioid areas in the country,” said Doug Rohde, the crime lab’s supervisor of chemistry and toxicology.

The powerful synthetic opioid now outpaces even heroin in the lab, which receives submissions for testing from law enforcement agencies throughout the county.

Through Oct. 19, the lab had 232 fentanyl cases compared to 167 heroin cases. The lab is on pace to see its fewest heroin submissions since 2014.

Heroin and fentanyl cases peaked in 2016 with 441 and 403 cases respectively. In 2017 there were 315 heroin cases and 293 fentanyl cases.

Rohde said the lab has seen a decrease in fentanyl analog cases overall, but they persist. Certain analogs were more prevalent this year compared to last. There were 49 acetyl fentanyl cases through Oct. 19 and 20 total cases last year. Despropionyl fentanyl cases nearly doubled to 81 from 42. Cyclopropyl fentanyl cases increased from 11 to 47.

The biggest reason why the lab is seeing fewer fentanyl analog cases this year is a significant decrease in carfentanil cases. Through Oct. 19, there were 17 cases of the large elephant sedative this year compared to 184 total in 2017. Rohde said the lab has continued to see fewer carfentanil cases through the remainder of the year.

The decline in is a welcome one. It’s one of the most powerful known opioids and is 100 times more potent than fentanyl.

Rohde said the lab is seeing an increase in cocaine and methamphetamine. He said that the powders they are testing frequently containing cocaine and/or methamphetamine along with fentanyl.

The Lake County Narcotics Agency noted last year they were seeing an increase in crystal meth known as “Ice” from Mexico. That has continued this year, Lake County Narcotics Agency Director David Frisone said.

Frisone said the meth from Mexico is cheaper than what is being found in labs in Ohio. Labs themselves are decreasing. He said they destroyed 20 labs in 2016, 10 in 2017 and that number was halved again in 2018.

The meth is being marketed in Ohio by cartels along with heroin, he said.

Over the summer eight people were indicted in federal court for what was believed to be the largest methamphetamine bust ever in Northeast Ohio.

“Member of this group traveled from Ohio to Mexico to set up a drug supply chain and then actively plotted a murder when they believed someone robbed from them,” U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman said. “This case demonstrates that the threat posed by Mexican criminal organizations to our region is very real.”

According to the indictment, a Boston Heights warehouse was allegedly used to make crystal meth and prepare it for sale. Law enforcement seized more than 140 pounds of meth from the warehouse.

Authorities believe the men intended to sell enough methamphetamine to eventually begin to buy and ship large amounts of cocaine into Ohio.

Rohde said they’ve continued to identify a few new fentanyl analogs this year, but they are also seeing “designer” analogy of other types of drugs: 3-methoxy PCP (analog to PCP) and flualprazolam (analog to Xanax).

“The flualprazolam was mixed with alprazolam in a clandestine tablet that had the appearance and pharmaceutical markings of a prescription Xanax tablet,” Rohde said. “We can no longer differentiate by observation alone between professional pharmaceutical tablets and clandestine tablets.

“The clandestine manufacturing process of tablets is that good now. Scientific analysis is required to tell exactly what is in a tablet.”

Rohde noted this is only a problem for those who are buying illicit drugs off the street or from a dealer. It’s not a concern for those who are given legitimate prescriptions by their doctor and filling them at a drugstore.

By Andrew Cass ACass@News-Herald.com