Deadly drug: Increase in fentanyl-related deaths

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Rainbow Fentanyl is a lethal drug that officals say is targeted toward children and teens.

HANCOCK COUNTY — Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. It’s power is deadly. As little as two milligrams – an amount equal to about 10-15 grains of salt – is considered a lethal dose.

Local officials say parents and community members need to be aware of the danger surrounding the drug as dealers are trying to move the lethal drug into communities and towns via every means possible.

 Hancock County Prosecutor Brent Eaton

October is National Substance Abuse Prevention Month. Prosecutor Brent Eaton sent out a release this week warning parents about a recent trend of drug cartels disguising the deadly drug fentanyl as candy, making it more difficult for law enforcement to find as the drugs cross the border.

“Parents absolutely must educate both themselves and their children,” Eaton said.

The Drug Enforcement Agency believes this is a deliberate effort to target children and young adults.

“Fentanyl is the deadliest drug threat facing us at this time,” Eaton said.

Known as “rainbow fentanyl,” pills and powder come in a variety of bright colors similar to candy. Drug traffickers, officials said, are utilizing social media to gain access to adolescents and teens who will associate it with sweets.

Last month, the DEA seized brightly colored fentanyl in 18 states. Some of it was contained in Nerds and Skittles packaging and some was in block form, resembling sidewalk chalk. The agency said approximately 40% of the pills contain a potentially lethal dose of the drug.

“There is no way to know which pill will kill you and which one will not,” Eaton said. “We have seen far too many overdose deaths in our community and some have resulted from fentanyl. I cannot stress enough how extremely dangerous this drug is.”

The rate of deaths in the United States from synthetic opioids has reached crisis proportions.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 109,000 people died of a drug overdose in the 12-month period ending March 2022. Synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, were involved in more than two-thirds of the overdose deaths.

Deaths involving synthetic opioids increased by a whopping 80% over the past two years, the CDC says, and parents need to be aware.

Fentanyl is often mixed with other illegal drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin, and users are often unaware that they are ingesting fentanyl, Eaton said. Many times, the drugs are sold as fake prescription pills, such as Percocet, oxycodone, Xanax and Adderall, which can be impossible to tell from real ones.

“These drug cartels are preying on our children with only one thing – profits – in mind,” Eaton said.

Eaton and other law enforcement officials are asking parents to take time to have a family discussion regarding illegal drugs and the many forms in which it can be disguised.

“They could absolutely be saving lives,” Eaton said.

The Pro-Active Criminal Enforcement or PACE Team is a multi-jurisdiction, law enforcement task force consisting of officers from the Hancock County Sheriff’s and the Henry County Sheriff’s Departments.

Hancock County team coordinator Nick Ernstes is on the front line in the fight against drug abuse. He and other officers patrol the county highway. They say illegal drugs are being disguised for shipping purposes.

“It doesn’t really change what we do, but we know now that if we see things inside cars, we might want to check to make sure they match commercial production and are not drugs repackaged,” Ernstes said. “We know there is a lot of repackaging and resealing of things because we’ve seen it.”

Ernstes said the shipping of drugs disguised as candy is one of their biggest challenges.

“It’s everyone’s worst fear that they’re targeting kids and teenagers with this stuff,” Ernstes said. “It’s very frustrating.”

He said the mass production of pills in Mexico, many laced with fentanyl, are pouring into the country.

“We’re seeing these things in bulk shipments,” Ernstes said. “We’re seeing multiple agencies across the southwest encountering these, and they’re ready to be sold rather than having to go to a stash house and be packaged and then sold.”

When drug enforcement officers like Ernstes run across drugs laced with fentanyl, he said it can be extremely dangerous for the officers, the K-9 officers and everyone trying to keep the drugs off the streets.

“This stuff is in every major city across the U.S. and it is extremely dangerous,” Ernstes said.

Officials with the Greenfield Police Department noted, at this point, they have not had any cases involving the “rainbow fentanyl” type of pills locally. However, making parents and kids aware that pills laced with fentanyl are out there is something that needs to happen.

Greenfield Police Department Deputy Chief Chuck McMichael

“We have seen over the past couple of years other types of drugs that are laced with fentanyl,” GPD Deputy Chief Chuck McMichael said. “The most important thing for our community is to be aware that fentanyl is extremely dangerous and has been in our community for several years now.”

Like Eaton, McMichael noted drug abuse prevention conversations need to be continuous with children to keep them from wanting to experiment.

“Fentanyl is so prevalent that even marijuana has been found to be laced with it,” McMichael said. “One joint or one pill can be deadly if it’s laced.”

McMichael noted people have to assume every time they use an illegal drug or prescription pill they get on the street it is potentially laced with fentanyl or other toxic substances.

Common prescription pills are being crushed, other substances added to them, and re-pressed to mimic legitimate pharmaceutical medications.

“This is where the danger lies.” McMichael said. “Unless it comes from a pharmacy, you never know what you are putting into your body.”

Nearly all local police departments in Hancock County have prescription drug drop boxes including one at the GPD located in the lobby with 24/7 access. They encourage everyone who has outdated or prescription medication they no longer use to bring those medications in and properly deposit them into the box. This helps to keep them from being stolen and consumed or sold on the street. Flushing old medications pollutes drinking water and should be avoided.

For more information on the dangers of fentanyl, visit www.nationwidechildrens.org.