Just days after hinting that fentanyl overdoses in the Sacramento region were tapering, the county’s health department announced Wednesday one more death and two more overdoses likely caused by the potent synthetic opioid.
The county has reported 51 opioid overdose cases since late March, including 11 deaths – 10 in Sacramento County and one in Yolo County. Toxicology reports have confirmed that eight of those deaths were related to fentanyl, a powerful opioid that drug officials said is on the rise in the black market. Fentanyl is considered to be 25 to 50 times more potent than heroin and 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Health officials did not disclose the identities or other details about the new overdose cases.
“We still need to be vigilant and this is one example why,” said Dr. Olivia Kasirye, public health officer for Sacramento County.
County officials said many of the recent overdose victims believed they were taking a far-less-dangerous painkiller called Norco, which they may have received from neighbors or street dealers. The DEA is investigating the source of the fentanyl-tainted pills, but law enforcement officials have said they believe the pills contain components imported from China for manufacture in Mexico and are smuggled into California. The agency recently opened a tip line for people with information about the source of the drugs.
On Monday, the county’s Public Health Department had received no reports of new fentanyl-linked cases from local hospitals or the coroner’s office since April 6 – a promising sign that word about the bad pills had gotten out.
“I do believe it is still tapering down, but one of our concerns is that there might be people out there who still have these pills and are not aware of it,” Kasirye said.
Casey Rettig, special agent with the DEA’s San Francisco Field Division, could not provide any updates on the investigation, which is being led by the Sacramento DEA office. She advised local residents to be extra cautious about the source of their drugs.
“The only prescription that’s safe to take is the one prescribed by your doctor and received from your doctor or a reputable pharmacist,” she said. “Anything else is like playing Russian roulette.”
Any unused pills should be properly disposed of in appropriate containers or turned over to law enforcement. Anyone who believes they are in possession of counterfeit prescription drugs should contact the DEA tip line at 530-722-7577.