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

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.

(Photo By Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

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.

(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.

(Photo By Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Dory Bauler's unused Fentanyl patch packets. She is one of millions of patients who used the fentanyl patch, which delivers a powerful narcotic through the skin. The patch, brand name Duragesic, was the subject of a recent FDA alert. Patients are overdosing, sometimes they die. Mrs. Bauler came off the patch when she realized the drug was causing her breathing problems, a sign of serious trouble. This photo was taken at her home in Laguna Woods.

(Photo by Glenn Koenig/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

A small bag of straight Fentanyl on display at the State Crime Lab at the Ohio Attorney General's headquarters of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation on Wednesday, September 16, 2015 in London, Ohio.

(Photo by Ty Wright for/ For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

'If I don't put these on, it hurts to breathe,' says Smitty Anderson wearing Fentanyl patches to help him deal with the pain caused by multiple myeloma cancer, a blood cancer that affects the bones. Anderson worked at Savannah River Site from 1981 to 1998. The Andersons filed claims to get federal compensation for his disease, which he said came from working at the nuclear site. He had no luck. 'We've been going through so much red tape for years,' he said. 'My wife has to do all the work now. I just don't have the strength anymore.' He died on Nov. 5, 2015.

(Gerry Melendez/The State/TNS via Getty Images)

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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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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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