So far, a reported 48 people have become severely ill and 10 people have died in the Sacramento area after taking what toxicology reports describe as a fentanyl pill made to look like prescription painkiller Norco.
Casey Rettig, a San Francisco-based special agent with the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration, said dozens of investigators are working to find the distribution source of the fatal pills and the DEA has announced a new anonymous tip line: 530-722-7577.
This latest ambush in the opioid epidemic is sweeping through the region’s black-market pill mill. A county news release details nine deaths were in Sacramento County and one death was in neighboring Yolo County. Those who overdosed vary in age and gender and have little in common.
One of the black-market pills users was a father of three, whose family says he took one of the pills for chronic stomach pain and didn’t know it was fentanyl in disguise. He overdosed and was removed from life support three days later.
Sacramento County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye said, “Our hope is that it will stop because I think it is very worrisome when you hear the stories of people taking one or two pills and suddenly they collapse.”
The Los Angeles Times reports fentanyl drug abuse largely began on the East Coast in the late 1980s and appears to be spreading west, through Mexican drug cartels. The National Drug Early Warning System (NDEWS) explains the synthetic compound is illegally manufactured chiefly in Mexico, with ingredients imported from China. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Chinese Ministry of Public Security recently put a moratorium on exports of many chemicals used for fentanyl production.
It’s a synthetic opioid painkiller that has been given to patients presurgery and prescribed to cancer patients for decades but has gained popularity in illegal distribution for its potency and fast-acting sedative effects. It’s sometimes used in heroin to intensify euphoric effects.
According to NDEWS, fentanyl is 25–40 times stronger than heroin and 50–100 times more potent than morphine. Due to its strength, it’s only administered in micrograms within lozenges, patches or injections to patients with severe pain. Neil Capretto, doctor of osteopathic medicine, says the prescription abuse began with hospital workers and grew out of control when fentanyl take-home patches were invented.
The fentanyl that was found in the pocket of one person who overdosed late March 2016 was in a large pill form, disguised as a popular painkiller. Local officials have said the street pills are no more than $5.
Pharmacists say that for those who legitimately depend on the drug for pain management, a box of only five fentanyl patches retails for $75 on average.
But even for the sincere individuals trying to obtain cheaper prescription, Sgt. Salvador Robles, of Sacramento County Sheriff’s major narcotics impact division warns that the $5 black market opiates are a fatal bargain. “If you’re addicted to Norco or any pills, do not take them right now.”
Just this March, the DEA officially warned that fentanyl is a “threat to public health and safety” and also took over the investigation into the distribution chain of the Sacramento area street purchases.
The opioid epidemic
“I’m confident the people will get arrested. The bigger picture is how to prevent the next crisis,” said Jon Daily, head of a local treatment center. “Drugs are not something to be played around with.”
Capretto believes labs here in the U.S. are making fentanyl as well.
“Drug dealers are in the business of making money and I’ve heard it’s very easy to make, so that means they can save money [by doing it themselves],” he said.
Illegally distributed fentanyl seized by authorities increased 400 percent from 2013 to 2014. In the same span of time, at least 700 deaths nationwide were due to fentanyl overdoses. This is just one front in the ongoing opioid epidemic plaguing the nation. The Centers for Disease and Control Prevention count in 2014 alone, more than 28,000 people were killed by opioids including heroin, and at least half those deaths were because of a prescription opioid.
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About the author
Sovereign Health Group staff writer Kristin Currin is a mindful spirit swimming in metaphysical pools with faith as her compass. Her cover: a 30s-something Cinderella breadwinner of an all-sport blended family. Her repertoire includes writing poetry, lifestyle articles and TV news; editing, radio production and on-camera reporting. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author at email@example.com.