A recent executive order signed by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine effectively banned certain opioids because of their dangers of abuse and addiction.
Seven benzimidazole-opioids were banned as the abuse of the substances are public health and safety risks, according to the executive order. The now-banned opioids are butonitazene, etodesnitazene, flunitazene, metonitazene, metodesnitazene, N-pyrrolidino etonitazene, and protonitazene. The State of Ohio Pharmacy Board said the drugs are illegally manufactured, usually in other countries.
“After a review of all available data, the Board of Pharmacy found that the above compounds have no accepted medical use in treatment in this state and pose an imminent hazard to the public health, safety, or welfare,” the board said.
DeWine signed the executive order on April 6.
“The seven substances have a high potential for abuse and addiction and can lead to large numbers of drug treatment admissions, emergency department visits, and fatal overdoses,” the executive order says.
This week, the Drug Enforcement Agency also issued a temporary scheduling order to make the drugs illegal on a federal level.
“This action is based on a finding by the Administrator that the placement of these seven substances in schedule I is necessary to avoid imminent hazard to the public safety,” the agency said.
Montgomery County Coroner Kent Harshbarger said the compounds are occasionally seen in the local crime lab. The samples, which are submitted for examination by law enforcement, are usually mixed with other drugs like fentanyl, he said.
“As we know these compounds are within the seized material submitted to the Miami Valley Crime Laboratory by law enforcement, the action is certainly beneficial from both the overdose potential and the prosecutor’s ability to successfully prosecute,” Harshbarger said.
He said the executive order will be a deterrent and will hopefully stop people from adding these compounds to other illicit drugs. He said that the toxicology lab does not screen for benzimidazole-opioids yet, and therefore it is unclear how many local overdose deaths those drugs have contributed to.
The pharmacy board found the population that is likely to abuse the seven benzimidazole-opioids appear to be the same as those abusing other opioids like heroin and fentanyl.
“This is evidenced by the types of other drugs co-identified in biological samples and law enforcement encounters,” the board said. “Because abusers are likely to obtain these substances through unregulated sources, their identity, purity, and quantity are uncertain and likely to be inconsistent, thus posing significant adverse health risks to the end-user.”
The board said some of the drugs have been identified in forensic post-mortem cases in different states. It also said according to 2019 data from the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, about 10 million people misused opioids.
More than 4,000 Ohioans died of unintentional drug overdoses in 2019. Montgomery County has averaged almost one accidental overdose death per day for 2020 and 2021, with over 300 deaths each of those years.