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I-TEAM: Cocaine overdoses now surpassing heroin in Massachusetts

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) - It's the latest twist in the opioid epidemic, fentanyl-laced cocaine has led to a surge in overdose deaths in several northeastern states, including Massachusetts.

Cocaine was detected in 41% of deadly overdoses across the state last year, surpassing heroin overdoses.

Brian Boyle is a Special Agent in Charge for the Drug Enforcement Agency. "Cocaine is readily available in Massachusetts. There is cocaine being produced in Columbia at record amounts right now, so there is large amounts of cocaine coming into the United States." 

The 22News I-Team looked at drug statistics for the past 5-years, and discovered cocaine overdoses have been trending higher in Massachusetts since 2014. 

Although law enforcement doesn't fully understand the reason behind the spike, Hampden County District Attorney Anthony Gulluni told the I-Team, they know that fentanyl is a factor. "It's a phenomenon now that fentanyl is being added to cocaine, which it has never really been in Massachsuetts and in our region here."

The Drug Enforcement Agency ranked Massachusetts one of the top 3-states for fentanyl laced cocaine seizures in 2016, and one of the top 5 states for deadly cocaine overdoses.

The DEA believes some drug dealers might  be intentionally mixing the drugs as "speedballs," which is when you combine a stimulant wit a depressant. 

However, DA Gulluni told the I-Team, he thinks the motivation is money. "Fentanyl can be added to a substance to make it stronger, to increase the high, and that ultimately saves the drug dealer money because cocaine is probably more expensive and less potent than fentanyl. " 

Mixing these two drugs can be extremely dangerous. If you're not used to having an opioid in your body, it dramatically increases the risk for overdose.

Police in the region are well aware of the uptick in overdoses, and departments in western Massachusetts have made several cocaine busts in recent months.

Earlier this month, three men were charged with trafficking cocaine in Hampden County. 

DA Gulluni told the I-Team, state police assigned to his office helped take a pound and a half of cocaine off the streets in the case. "It was really the focal point of that investigation was cocaine, and we took a lot of cocaine away from those drug dealers. So we're responding to that, and keeping our eyes on it with our federal, state, and local partners. We're doing our best to get these drugs off the streets."

According to the CDC, deadly cocaine overdoses more than tripled across the country from 2010 to 2017.


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