- Associated Press - Friday, February 12, 2016

CLEVELAND (AP) - A medical examiner in northeast Ohio said Friday that some fentanyl-related overdose deaths last month may be attributed to illegal sales of the powerful painkiller in a pill form with the same markings as less-potent oxycodone tablets.

Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner Thomas Gilson said at a news conference that there were 19 overdose deaths last month attributed to fentanyl compared with 21 heroin overdose deaths. The lookalike fentanyl pills are being manufactured in China and possibly Mexico and, for the first time, are showing up in local drug markets, Gilson said.

“This is all the more alarming because this is a much more lethal drug being dressed up as another popular drug abused by the same population,” Gilson said.

Gilson added that lookalike pills point to the dangers of buying what appear to be pharmaceutical drugs off the street.

Fentanyl deaths in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, jumped from 37 in 2014 to a record 89 last year. Forty-one of the cases involved both fentanyl and heroin.

Officials said that there was a slightly promising trend last year as fatal heroin overdoses decreased 8 percent from 198 in 2014 to 183 in 2015. It’s the first time since 2007 that Cuyahoga County has seen a decline in heroin overdose deaths.

The county is aware of 166 lives saved last year after people received the opioid antidote drug naloxone, also known as Narcan. Gilson said there may be more overdose reversals that weren’t reported to authorities.

There is a movement in Ohio to make naloxone available over the counter at retail outlets. The CVS drug store chain announced last month that its Ohio stores would sell the drug and the Kroger grocery store chain did the same on Friday.

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