Fentanyl is being sold as Xanax in Florida and 9 people have died already

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Authorities have discovered that Xanax being sold on the street in Pinellas County, Florida is laced with a powerful narcotic called fentanyl, and nine people have already died as a result.

At a press conference on March 21, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri warned the public of the disturbing trend.

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"People need to immediately stop buying Xanax on the street because their life literally depends on it," Gualtieri said, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Fentanyl, which is 50 times stronger than heroine and 100 times stronger than morphine, is generally prescribed for people suffering with severe and/or chronic pain, including those in hospice care. The drug is so strong that it is typically administered via a transdermal patch rather than orally, making the oral doses being peddled on the streets that much more dangerous.

"It's so strong, it's killing them," said the sheriff.

"We don't know whether the source of Xanax-fentanyl mixture is a local source, being manufactured here or in our area or manufactured elsewhere and being imported," Gualtieri explained.

Fentanyl abuse is a growing epidemic in the United States, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Orange County, California. In February, President Barack Obama announced a proposal to dedicate $1.1 billion toward the country's opiate epidemic, listing fentanyl among the drugs in question.

Related: How many people per state use mood-altering drugs each day?

51 PHOTOS
Highest/Lowest Mood Altering Drug Use by State
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Fentanyl is being sold as Xanax in Florida and 9 people have died already

50. Alaska

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 13.5

Photo: Zoonar/N.Okhitin via Getty Images 

49. Wyoming

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 15.5

Photo: Space Images via Getty Images 

48. California

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 15.8

Photo: Dorling Kindersley via Getty Images 

47. Illinois

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 16.0

Photo: VisionsofAmerica/Joe Sohm

46. North Dakota

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 16.4

Photo: Shutterstock

45. New Jersey

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 16.5

Photo: Shutterstock

43. Texas

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 16.7

Photo: Shutterstock

44. Colorado

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 16.7

Photo: Shutterstock

42. Utah

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 16.8

Photo: Shutterstock

41. Maryland

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 17.3

Photo: Shutterstock

40. Hawaii

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 17.3

Photo: Shutterstock

39. South Dakota

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 17.4

Photo: Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the BPL/Flickr

38. New York

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 17.4

photo: Shutterstock

37. Minnesota

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 17.5

photo: anthonylibrarian/Flickr

36. Washington

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 17.6

photo: Shutterstock

35. Arizona

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 17.6

photo: TaylorB90/Flickr

34. Virginia

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 17.7

photo: Shutterstock

33. Montana

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 17.7

photo: J.Stephen Conn/Flickr

32. New Hampshire

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 18.1

photo: Shutterstock

31. Maine

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 18.1

photo: Shutterstock

30. Connecticuit

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 18.2

photo: Shutterstock

29. Nebraska

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 18.3

photo: Shutterstock

28. New Mexico

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 18.4

photo: Shutterstock

27. Kansas

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 18.4

photo: Shutterstock

26. Delaware

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 18.4

photo: Shutterstock

25. Georgia

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 18.7

photo: Shutterstock

24. Idaho

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 19.0

photo: Shutterstock

23. Nevada

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 19.1

photo: Shutterstock

22. North Carolina

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 19.1

photo: Getty Images

21. Iowa

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 19.4

photo: yorkfoto

20. Massachusetts

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 19.5

photo: Shutterstock

19. Florida

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 19.6

photo: Shutterstock

18. Wisconsin

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 20.0

photo: Kubrak78

17. Vermont

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 20.1

photo: Shutterstock

16. Ohio

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 21.3

photo: Shutterstock

15. Tennessee

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 21.5

photo: Shutterstock

14. Oklahoma

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 21.5

photo: Shutterstock

13. Michigan

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 21.5

photo: Shutterstock

12.Pennsylvania

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 21.6

photo: Henryk Sadura

11. Arkansas

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 21.6

photo: yorkfoto

10. Oregon

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 21.9

Photo: Shutterstock

9. Indiana

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 22.1

Photo: Shutterstock

8. Missouri

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 22.2

Photo: Shutterstock

7. Mississippi

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 22.3

Photo: Medioimages/Photodisc via Getty Images

6. South Carolina

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 22.8

Photo: Shutterstock

5. Louisiana

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 22.9

Photo: Shutterstock

4. Alabama

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 24.2

Photo: Dennis Macdonald via Getty Images

3. Kentucky

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 24.5

Photo: Dorling Kindersley via Getty Images

2. Rhode Island 

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 25.9

Photo: Shutterstock

1. West Virginia 

% who say they use drugs almost every day: 28.1

Photo: dk_photos via Getty Images 

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