Were fears of cannabis laced with a deadly opioid overblown by state leaders?
A series of incidents last year led Connecticut to announce it had the first lab-confirmed cases of cannabis with fentanyl in our state, and possibly the nation.
They may want to walk that back a little.
Last fall, the state Department of Public Health (DPH) said it believed the deadly opioid was connected to 39 overdoses in Connecticut, where people had to be revived with naloxone, otherwise known as Narcan.
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The people treated claimed they were only using cannabis, and state lab technicians had concerns about a pattern.
Michael Rickenbach, deputy director of chemical analysis at the state lab, said in the fall of 2021, “Detecting fentanyl was not a big surprise to us, it was just the manner in which it was found…it was found laced on marijuana."
This prompted state guidance that cannabis users should go to safer, government regulated dispensaries instead of the black market.
Then, the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program, known as HIDTA, dug deeper.
“It was kind of hard to pinpoint whether or not these people actually overdosed from just smoking marijuana,” Robert Lawlor Jr., a drug intelligence officer for HIDTA’s New England district, said.
HIDTA found police obtained one cannabis sample from an overdose scene in Plymouth that did test positive for fentanyl…but it was the only cannabis sample positive for fentanyl in five months of submissions.
HIDTA and others determined that batch of cannabis was not intentionally laced with fentanyl, but had a small amount due to poor quality control by the dealer.
“They're using the same equipment to bag up their marijuana as they are their fentanyl, which can cause cross contamination,” Lawlor said.
Plus, it turned out 30 of the 39 overdoses did involve people with a history of opioid use.
Still, HIDTA warned, “While this may be isolated, this this could very easily happen, this could very easily have happened before, it can very easily happen again.”
The CT DPH echoed what HIDTA said, declining to give NBC Connecticut Investigates an interview, but, telling Hearst Connecticut Media that the contamination was probably caused when the dealer “…failed to clean their instruments before processing the marijuana and cross contaminated it with fentanyl.”
“Anything bought off the street, including cannabis, has the potential to contain other substances, one of those being fentanyl,” they told Hearst Connecticut Media.
Connecticut medical cannabis users like Lou Rinaldi said the state’s failure to modify its fentanyl-laced cannabis warning as loudly as it announced it has created unease with state agencies overseeing cannabis.
“The trust erodes, right? The trust in the state in DPH, and DCP (Department of Consumer Protection), it all begins to erode even further,” Rinaldi said.
Another point of contention, according to Rinaldi - a recent state decision to allow higher yeast and mold levels in cannabis sold here versus some other states.