Health & Medicine

Fentanyl overdose cases rise to 29, including death of El Dorado Hills teen

The potent painkiller fentanyl widened its reach Thursday, as a new overdose case appeared and law enforcement officials confirmed the fentanyl-related death of an 18-year-old El Dorado Hills resident.

The March 28 death of George Berry, whose cause of death previously was listed as undetermined, now is linked to the recent rash of overdoses by pills or tablets containing fentanyl, according to the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office.

“We get a lot of overdose deaths every day, so you can’t automatically assume they’re related to fentanyl and hydrocodone pills,” sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Jim Beyers said Thursday. “But we were advised late last night (Wednesday) that it was confirmed fentanyl.”

Also Thursday, the UC Davis Medical Center reported that another patient is suffering from a fentanyl-related overdose – the center’s 17th case – according to a hospital spokeswoman.

That brings the total count in the Sacramento region to 29 cases, including seven deaths, since March 24, say public health and law enforcement officials. Health officials believe that fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that can quickly overwhelm the respiratory system and cause cardiac arrest, was laced into counterfeit Norco tablets or other pills and sold on the street.

Given the recent spate of overdoses, the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office posted a photo of counterfeit hydrocodone pills “laced with fentanyl” and urged anyone who has purchased the pills illegally to “not use them as they may kill you.”

Sacramento County and El Dorado County sheriff’s offices are assisting the federal Drug Enforcement Administration with a regional investigation.

A tainted Norco pill is believed to be behind the recent death of Jerome Butler, a 28-year-old father of three children. Butler, a south Sacramento resident who apparently slipped into semi-consciousness at a friend’s home where he’d been staying, was taken off life support Wednesday at Kaiser South hospital.

His family is holding a candlelight vigil on Friday, starting at 6:30 p.m. at Pollack Ranch Park in south Sacramento, south of Luther Burbank High School. The family will take donations and offer $5 plates of BBQ meats and enchiladas to help pay for funeral expenses. They’ve also set up a “Fighting for Jerome” page on GoFundMe.com that has raised $480.

On Tuesday, lawmakers and Southern California law enforcement officials will attend a state Senate public safety committee hearing on SB 1323, a bill to toughen penalties for drug traffickers who sell or transport fentanyl.

It was prompted by “an epidemic of young people who overdosed and some died” in Orange County in recent years but also is intended to address the problems seen in Sacramento and across the country, said state Sen. Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, one of the bills’ co-authors. The bill, introduced in February, will add fentanyl to the list of drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, that are subject to enhanced prison sentences, based on weight.

It would mark another step in raising the public’s awareness “so they understand the dangers of fentanyl and the challenges we’re facing in trying to combat this,” said Capt. Stu Greenberg, head of investigations for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, who said four people died locally in 2015 from fentanyl overdoses. “Fentanyl is becoming a major problem.”

Claudia Buck: 916-321-1968, @Claudia_Buck

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