Fentanyl-tainted pills wreaking havoc in Sacramento

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42 Drug Overdoses In 2 Weeks In Sacramento


Sacramento has become the latest U.S. city to feel the effects of a synthetic opiate that has been killing drug abusers across the country for the last several years.

According to federal authorities, there have been at least 42 overdoses, and 10 deaths, attributed to counterfeit Norco tablets that contain the drug fentanyl—a highly potent, synthetic opioid 50 times more powerful than heroin—in Sacramento since March 23. Norco, a painkiller used to treat moderate to severe pain, contains hydrocodone and acetaminophen.

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"The lab was able to identify the pills as containing fentanyl instead. This indicates that they are really fentanyl pills (street drugs – counterfeit) that have been made to look like Norco," the Sacramento County Department of Health and Human Services posted on its website.

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Fentanyl-tainted pills wreaking havoc in Sacramento
A seized counterfeit hydrocodone tablets in the investigation of a rash of fentanyl overdoses in northern California is shown in this Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) photo released on April 4, 2016. At least 42 drug overdoses in the past two weeks have been reported in northern California, 10 of them fatal, in what authorities on Monday called the biggest cluster of poisonings linked to the powerful synthetic narcotic fentanyl ever to hit the U.S. West Coast. REUTERS/Drug Enforcement Administration/Handout via Reuters
Fentanyl Citrate, a CLASS II Controlled Substance as classified by the Drug Enforcement Agency in the secure area of a local hospital Friday, July10, 2009. Joe Amon / The Denver Post (Photo By Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
This undated photo provided by the Cuyahoga County Medical Examinerâs Office shows fentanyl pills. Authorities say they've arrested Ryan Gaston, a man in a Cleveland suburb after seizing more than 900 fentanyl pills marked liked tablets of the less-potent opiate oxycodone. The Cuyahoga County medical examiner said that lookalike pills were likely to blame for some of the county's 19 fentanyl-related overdose deaths in January 2016. (Cuyahoga County Medical Examinerâs Office via AP)
A collection of different brand and dosages of the Fentanyl patch, clearly marked wit warnings about non-precribed uses, Wednesday, April 26,2006 in St. Louis. Abuse of the patch is on a steady upward swing leading to many deaths. Emergency rooms visits by people misusing the pain relieving opiate fentanyl shot up nearly 14-fold nationwide from 2000 to 2004 to 8,000, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' figures. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam)
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Other cities have seen similar spikes when batches of heroin or other opioids tainted with fentanyl hit the streets. In some cases, the user doesn't know he or she is getting fentanyl. Others seek it out.

Last year, Vocativ spent time with several people around the country addicted to heroin and other opioids, each of whom said they've used fentanyl several times. "It's hard to find heroin that doesn't have at least some fentanyl in it," said one addict who asked that Vocativ use only his first name, Pete. Pete died in Rochester, New York, in February. His death was not the result of an overdose.

In Pete's case, he told us he became hooked on opiates after an ankle surgery about seven years ago, after which he was prescribed both morphine and a collection of other opiates to which he ultimately became addicted. When they became harder to find, he started using heroin, a pattern that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has noted is fairly common. According to a 2014 CDC report, a study of one treatment center showed that 75 percent of opiate users who started using after 2000 said their first regular opiate use had been a prescription drug. That's a contrast to 1960, when 80 percent of opiate users started with heroin. More than 23,000 people were killed by heroin in 2012, a five-fold increase in overdose deaths since 2001. Fentanyl, law enforcement officials say, is only making heroin use more dangerous than it already is.

Like Sacramento and several other cities, Rochester has also seen a lethal batch of fentanyl-spiked heroin kill several people in short periods of time on more than one occasion. In nearby Erie County, 23 people died in an 11-day period after a deadly fentanyl-heroin mix hit the streets in early February. In August of 2015, 27 people died in a 48-hour period in Washington County, Pennsylvania, which includes Pittsburgh.

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Fentanyl-tainted pills wreaking havoc in Sacramento
In this Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015, photo, used heroin syringes are stored in a water bottle as Steve Monnin cleans a wooded area in Combs Park, in Hamilton, Ohio. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called heroin use a national epidemic and it is hitting hard in southern Ohio. The CDC says heroin-related deaths nationally nearly quadrupled in a decade; and in Ohio's Butler County, they have nearly quadrupled in just the past three years. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
In this Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015, photo, Dorothy McIntosh Shuemake, mother of Alison Shuemake who died of a suspected heroin overdose, cries as she clutches her daughter's toy stuffed rabbit during an interview at her home, in Middletown, Ohio. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called heroin use a national epidemic and it is hitting hard in southern Ohio. The CDC says heroin-related deaths nationally nearly quadrupled in a decade; and in Ohio's Butler County, they have nearly quadrupled in just the past three years. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
In this Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015, photo, used heroin syringes and cooking spoons are found hidden at the base of trees as Steve Monnin cleans a wooded area of Combs Park in Hamilton, Ohio. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called a heroin use a national epidemic and it is hitting hard in southern Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
In this Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015, photo, Steve Monnin searches through the thick brush of a wooded area frequented by heroin users as he cleans Combs Park in Hamilton, Ohio. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called heroin use a national epidemic and it is hitting hard in southern Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
In this Friday, Sept. 18, 2015, photo, Melissa Smith-Procter is interviewed in the kitchen area of her workplace at Sojourner Recovery Services in Hamilton, Ohio. Smith-Procter said sheâs had two ex-boyfriends, several other friends and two women she was in treatment with die from heroin. She recently celebrated 20 months of sobriety after more than two decades of abusing drugs and alcohol. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
In this Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015, photo, Dorothy McIntosh Shuemake and Fred Shuemake, parents of Alison Shuemake who died of a suspected heroin overdose, browse a picture collage of their daughter at their home, in Middletown, Ohio. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called heroin use a national epidemic and it is hitting hard in southern Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
In this Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015, photo, Dorothy McIntosh Shuemake, mother of Alison Shuemake who died of a suspected heroin overdose, looks at pictures of her daughter during an interview at her home, in Middletown, Ohio. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called heroin use a national epidemic and it is hitting hard in southern Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
In this Friday, Sept. 18, 2015, photo, Melissa Smith-Procter wipes tears from her eyes as she speaks about the trust her employers show her as she was interviewed in the kitchen area of her workplace at Sojourner Recovery Services in Hamilton, Ohio. Smith-Procter said sheâs had two ex-boyfriends, several other friends and two women she was in treatment with die from heroin. She recently celebrated 20 months of sobriety after more than two decades of abusing drugs and alcohol. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
In this Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015, photo, Butler County Coroner Dr. Lisa Mannix is interviewed at her office in West Chester Township, Ohio. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called heroin use a national epidemic and it is hitting hard in southern Ohio. Mannix recently investigated three overdose deaths within a few hours. She says getting results is âa big, big ship to turn around.â (AP Photo/Dan Sewell)
In this Friday, Sept. 18, 2015, photo, Melissa Smith-Procter is interviewed in the kitchen area of her workplace at Sojourner Recovery Services in Hamilton, Ohio. Smith-Procter said sheâs had two ex-boyfriends, several other friends and two women she was in treatment with die from heroin. She recently celebrated 20 months of sobriety after more than two decades of abusing drugs and alcohol. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
In this Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015, photo, Steve Monnin, 57, places a heroin syringe in a water bottle as he cleans Combs Park in Hamilton, Ohio. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called heroin use a national epidemic and it is hitting hard in southern Ohio. The CDC says heroin-related deaths nationally nearly quadrupled in a decade; and in Butler County, they have nearly quadrupled in just the past three years. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
In this Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015, photo, a loaded heroin syringe is found in the underbrush of a wooded area in Combs Park in Hamilton, Ohio. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called heroin use a national epidemic and it is hitting hard in southern Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
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The sources of fentanyl range—it's not like crystal meth that anyone with a chemistry set can make, a member of a federal task force designated to target fentanyl distribution explained to Vocativ. It requires a certain expertise and somewhat complex lab equipment. Some, the task force member said, comes from Chinese labs and is easily purchased online and on the deep web and mailed to customers in the U.S. and Canada. Other sources include clandestine labs in both the U.S. and Mexico.

The overdoses in Sacramento are rather unique in that the fentanyl wasn't simply added to powder heroin, it has been mixed into bootleg prescription drugs that look like the real thing.

"The DEA urges the public not to take a prescription drug unless prescribed by your own physician and/or obtained from a reputable pharmacy," the Drug Enforcement Administration said in a warning posted on its website.

The post Fentanyl-Tainted Pills Wreaking Havoc In Sacramento appeared first on Vocativ.

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