A rise in drug overdose calls over the last month and the confirmation of a new synthetic opioid causing one overdose death has city police officials concerned.
“There’s a very dangerous substance making its way through our community,” City Police Lt. Michael Strangeway said Thursday afternoon.
That new drug comes as the police department has seen more calls for overdoses over the last month, including one week when they had at least one call a day, Strangeway said.
“In the last 45 days, city police have responded to 15 calls for service involving individuals who have overdosed on drugs (opiates and bath salts, or ‘Molly’),” Stangeway said Thursday afternoon in a news release. “That number is up from five cases in the preceding month. Those are just the cases where police were notified. Many others are treated personally through the use of Narcan, which many users now carry on their person for use upon themselves in the event they accidentally overdose. Others still, are transported to the hospital without law enforcement’s knowledge.”
Strangeway said there have been two overdose deaths. Of the two, only one pathology report has come back and it’s raised red flags at the department. The person had overdosed on a synthetic opioid called brorphine.
Strangeway said he searched the internet for references of the drug and could only find that it had been prominent in the Midwest.
“It was reported by the pathologist in that case, this was the first instance of overdose by brorphine that he was aware of in the area,” Stangeway said in the release. “Brorphine is a synthetic opiate that the pathologist described as ‘deadly.’”
Cortland County Coroner Whitney Meeker said this morning the lab the county uses for toxicology tests in Pennsylvania is continuing to check for the drug because it had never previously seen it before either. She said the lab will provide the county with more information.
Brorphine began appearing in the U.S. in June, shortly after the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration temporarily added the synthetic drug isotonitazene to the list of scheduled drugs by the administration, according to an article by The Center for Forensic Science Research & Education from July. The center article states that brorphine looks to be a replacement for isotonitazene.
“Brorphine is a potent synthetic opioid with structural resemblance to fentanyl and its analogues,” states the article. “However, brorphine is not controlled in the U.S. under corestructure scheduling of fentanyl related substances. Brorphine was first synthesized and reported in 2018, although analogues of brorphine appear in scientific literature as far back as the 1960s.”
Meeker said the drug may appear in white powder form, making it hard for anyone taking drugs to tell it is different from other substances of similar appearance.
“New synthetic opioids may be mixed with more traditional opioids, creating additional risk and danger for recreational drug users,” states the article. “Synthetic opioids may be distributed in powder or tablet form. In the United States (U.S.), an alarming increase in the number of deaths linked to synthetic opioid use has been reported. The primary adverse effect associated with synthetic opioid use is respiratory depression, often leading to death.”
Strangeway said brorphine is largely untested and it’s unclear whether it can be passed through the skin like Fentanyl.
Meeker said it’s unclear if Naloxone will reverse the effects of the drug during an overdose.
“I hope so, but I don’t know,” Meeker said.
Strangeway said the department executed a search warrant with the sheriff’s department at 8 a.m. Thursday at 237 Port Watson St. He said police found the residence had been used as a drug den, a place where users obtain and use illegal drugs.
“The house was littered with empty wax heroin bags, bath salts bags, hundreds of used needles and other assorted pieces of paraphernalia commonly utilized during intravenous drug use,” he said in the release.
Strangeway said they found 54-year-old Kipp J. Patterelli, who is homeless, in the residence. He was arrested by officers who had been searching for him after he failed to properly register as a Level Three sex offender. He had been arrested two previous times for failing to register and was convicted of a felony on one of the occasions, Strangeway said.
He was charged with failure to register, a felony, and seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, a misdemeanor. He was awaiting arraignment Thursday afternoon.
The department is still investigating where the drugs are coming from, Strangeway said, noting it is hard because it is unknown what the drug could be mixed with right now — heroin, bath salts or other drugs.
“It could be mixed with anything,” he said, noting bath salts, also known as Molly, is the most popular drug in the city right now.
Strangway said police did find at the house two types of bags used for drugs: one branded with Spider-man and the words ‘Monster High’ in blue on another.
“Bags of this nature generally contain heroin, but may in addition carry mixtures containing Fentanyl and/or brorphine,” Strangeway said.
The owner of 237 Port Watson St. was told the house was being used as a drug den and Strangeway said the owner indicated it would be cleaned up and the property secured.
Johnson City Police Chief Brent Dodge confirmed that they have had no cases to date involving the drug. Syracuse City, Binghamton City, Auburn City and Ithaca City did not respond for comments on whether the drug has been seen in those cities.
Meeker said she has reached out to several law enforcement agencies and other medical examiners to let them know the drug is in the area. She also said they will ask the lab the county uses to now test for the drug.
“The City police will continue to seek out and arrest individuals responsible for transporting and distributing these dangerous substances,” Stangeway said. “Users are cautioned and need to be aware of the grave risks associated with the use of these types of drugs. We encourage those suffering with addiction to seek the help of professionals, including the police, who are willing and anxious to support all members of the community in recovery and working towards leading a healthy life-style.”