San Diego-area DEA agents say they are seeing the reappearance of a dangerous substance on our local streets that is 30 to 50 times stronger than heroin.
It’s called fentanyl and it’s used by medical professionals during surgeries and to treat terminally ill patients. However, illegal drug organizations are cutting heroin with fentanyl, and unsuspecting users are overdosing.
DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Karen Flowers says drug organizations are doing this to increase product and potency.
“The potency is the area we're concerned with,” said Flowers. “About .25 mg is the standard dosage unit would be for fatalities. If you take a head of a push pin, about that much or a few grains of salt [can cause death].”
“So when you have a novice user or someone who uses [heroin] daily and they suddenly get this extra dose of potency, the effect is an overdose which can be fatal,” she continued.
Flowers says local DEA investigations reveal fentanyl has been seized in San Diego County in the last eight to nine months. During one incident, straight fentanyl was disguised as a brick of heroin.
The potent substance also puts law enforcement officers at risk.
“Due to the exposure potential we issued a threat to be cautious of this substance because absorbing it through the skin or inhalation can cause fatalities. We haven't seen fatalities, but the potential does exist,” said Flowers.
Fentanyl has been the cause of heroin overdoses in different pocket of areas throughout the country.
Flowers says the spikes have been particularly dramatic in the past 12 months.
According to the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Officer, heroin deaths have increased since 2012, but Flowers says it’s hard to say fentanyl is the cause. She does believe, however, fentanyl deaths are very underreported here in San Diego.
“If you ingest something that contains heroine or fentanyl or just straight fentanyl it metabolizes in your system and when we test for it, it just shows morphine,” she said.
There is good news. There is an antidote called Narcan, and it’s carried by Sheriff’s deputies and DEA agents. DEA officials say it’s very effective.