San Diego

Dangerous Drug Fentanyl Responsible for 20 Deaths in San Diego County in 2017: ME

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 40 to 50 times more powerful than heroin.

The dangerous synthetic opioid Fentanyl is responsible for 20 deaths across San Diego County so far this year, according to new data from the San Diego County Medical Examiner's office (ME). 

The statistics come amid a new warning from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) about deaths from the drug, a synthetic opioid that is 40 to 50 times more powerful than heroin.

When NBC 7 reached out to the ME's office, we were told the office has historically dealt with the prescription Fentanyl. 

But in 2014, ME officials said they saw the emergence of fentanyl analogs --toxic variations of the drug that are manufactured illegally.

In 2015, 21 people died as a result of the drug. Fourteen of those deaths were caused by the prescription fentanyl. 

Thirty-three deaths were recorded in 2016. 

According to the ME, other medications, alcohol, illegal drugs, as well as natural diseases, can contribute as a factor in the deaths. 

In a video released to first responders, the DEA warned that should they come across the drug; they should not touch it or test it in the field. Instead, officers are told to take it back to a laboratory, where it can be properly handled and tested.

The video also featured two New Jersey police officers who became sick after handling fentanyl.

Fentanyl can also be deadly for police K-9s, the DEA warned, so officers should take precautions.

Last year, three police dogs in Florida were rushed to an animal hospital when they ingested fentanyl. 

Now, law enforcement officers have started carrying naloxone with them on drug raids for K-9s -- a drug used to reverse overdoses in humans.

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