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Connecticut falsely linked nearly 40 overdoses to fentanyl-laced marijuana, report finds

marijuana leaf
Elsa Olofsson

Concern over an increase in fentanyl-laced marijuana swept Connecticut after the state Department of Public Health reported potentially 39 overdoses on Nov. 18, but only one case was later found to be accurate.

“The [Connecticut Overdose Response Strategy] assesses that the positive confirmation of marijuana with fentanyl was likely accidental contamination and an isolated incident,” Chris Boyle, a state health department spokesperson.

Between July and October 2021, the state recorded 39 reports of "suspected" marijuana and fentanyl overdoses, Boyle said. In each of these cases, the person who overdosed claimed that they were only consuming marijuana, but experienced an opioid overdose. Many of them were revived with naloxone, the overdose reversal drug.

The state also said the one sample that tested positive for fentanyl was turned in by the Plymouth Police Department and the result was an unconventional find.

“This is the first lab-confirmed case of marijuana with fentanyl in Connecticut and possibly the first confirmed case in the United States,” State Health Commissioner Manisha Juthani said in the original report.

After an investigation, the Plymouth case remains the only confirmed case out of the original potential 39. Boyle said the drugs were seized and tested at the state forensics lab and test results indicated the presence of both marijuana and fentanyl. The drugs were re-tested and verified at the federal lab.

"We take patients' claims very seriously and we need to investigate if there are any claims of cross contamination," Boyle said.

The state is investigating whether the drug dealer could have intentionally added fentanyl to marijuana, or if the person who overdosed could have lied and said they only consumed marijuana, "when in actuality, they knowingly consumed both marijuana and fentanyl," Boyle said.

"Not all of the drugs that were seized were sent to the state forensics lab for testing, so it's possible that there could have been other instances," he said.

State data shows 92% of fatal opioid overdoses are caused by fentanyl.

"We monitor this very closely, and we are increasingly seeing and identifying many drugs contaminated with fentanyl," Boyle said. "It was a matter of time that marijuana bought off the street would be contaminated as well."

Samantha is a former news intern with WSHU Public Radio.