Fentanyl Tied to Spike in Drug Deaths

News 8 Investigators

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — As New Haven, state and federal officials met Friday morning, no one knew exactly what they were dealing with. The drug that that killed two and hospitalized more than a dozen is something new, said hospital officials Friday.

The drug was sold as cocaine, but it wasn’t. They believed it contains fentanyl, a powerful opiate, because patients were not responding to Narcan and had trouble breathing. What else is in the drug requires lab testing.

“This is something new,

” said Dr. Gail D’Onofrio, with Yale New Haven Hospital’s Emergency Medicine.

New Haven hospitals are seeing a rising numbers of fentanyl abuse cases that are creating challenges.

“It is very scary,” said D’Onofrio. “People don’t know that they’re taking and that is the problem.”

While simple tests exist for other drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, fentanyl is different.

“We can’t even test for it,” said D’Onofrio. “There is no dipstick for it currently even in our hospital. We send it out. It will not show up under classic drug screens so we’ve all been scrambling to work on that.”

Fentanyl-laced drugs has been a growing issue in Connecticut and the region because of it’s cheap production cost & high potency.

“Some users may want to use it because they can use small amounts and get very high,” said D’Onofrio.

Just this month, a medical examiner in Minnesota released information showing singer Prince died from a self induced fentanyl overdose.

In March 2015, the Drug Enforcement Administration issued a nationwide alert after seeing a spike in fentanyl related seizures.

According to the National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS), drug testing labs around the country saw 3,344 fentanyl submissions in 2014, up from 942 in 2013. The DEA has identified 15 other fentanyl-related compounds, said officials in a statement.

In Connecticut, drug related deaths have spiked and are expected to go higher. Records from the Medical Examiner’s Office show fentanyl was linked to 37 deaths in 2013 and 188 in 2015. The most recent data shows 83 fentanyl related deaths in 2016, but the total projected number is expected to be 332, more than doubling 2015 numbers.

DEA records show that fentanyl can be 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin. It is lethal even in small doses. The DEA even warned law enforcement about the dangers of the drug, as it can be breathed in or absorbed through the skin just by touching it.Seizures of fentanyl has been linked to Mexican drug trafficking organizations, according to the DEA warning. 

Exactly what was in the drug that caused the New Haven overdoses was expected on Friday afternoon, but as of this publication no further information has been released.

New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman would not say whether the bags in which the drugs were sold had an identifying stamp that often is used in drug sales.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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