Several are dead in an Illinois community from cocaine laced with the deadly opioid fentanyl, prompting a warning from police calling the mixture a “game changer.”
Jerry Mitchell, the police chief of Peoria, called an emergency press conference Thursday after three people died from fentanyl-laced cocaine in the area over just two days. He said the emergence of fentanyl, a synthetic painkiller roughly 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, poses a unique problem because the substance has previously only been found in heroin in Peoria, reports Journal Star.
Fentanyl is blamed as the primary driver of the current opioid epidemic that claimed more than 64,000 lives in 2016. Heroin users are often expecting fentanyl in their supplies, many times seeking it out for a powerful opioid high, but cocaine is commonly used as a recreational drug by people without a tolerance to opioids.
“It changes the image a lot for people who do not expect to have that in a recreation drug or drugs that they depend upon,” Mitchell said at the press conference Thursday, according to Journal Star. “This is here and we have to deal with it.”
Drug overdose deaths are sharply rising in Peoria and authorities suspect this is due to the growing prevalence of fentanyl. The town lost 57 residents to drug overdoses in 2015. Authorities have recorded 252 overdoses in 2017 so far. Officials are particularly concerned with the influx of a new type of fentanyl in Illinois that looks just like “rock cocaine.”
“You could overdose on a large quantity of cocaine and Narcan wouldn’t help you, but now that this fentanyl is being mixed in, then they need to know to carry Narcan, or a better version is not to use cocaine,” Capt. Mike Mushinsky said Thursday, according to Journal Star. “We have never seen this in cocaine and we would never expect to see this in cocaine.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates cocaine overdose deaths increased from roughly 4,000 in 2009 to more than 6,700 in 2015. Officials say cocaine overdose deaths are about to explode in 2017 to nearly 11,000.
The Drug Enforcement Administration issued new guidance to police departments across the country in June on how to handle heroin and other narcotics due to the increasing prevalence of fentanyl. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein warned it only takes two milligrams of fentanyl, “the equivalent of a few grains of table salt,” to cause a fatal overdose.
Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death for Americans under age 50.
The addiction epidemic in America will continue to deteriorate, pushing drug deaths to an estimated 71,600 in 2017, predicts data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse released Sept. 7. If the estimates prove accurate, 2017 will be the second year in a row that drug deaths surpass U.S. casualties from the Vietnam War.
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