Wave of Fentanyl Overdoses Plagues Northern California

Mar 31, 2016 3:23 PM by News Staff

Sacramento is dealing with a wave of drug overdoses. It's another scare in the nationwide epidemic of opiate addiction.

So serious, in fact that opiate overdoses are the leading cause of unintentional death for Americans.

In the past week, Sacramento County has seen 28 cases of fentanyl overdose and six were fatal.

DEA investigators suspect that users bought a street-version of what they thought was norco.

But, the pills were laced with fentanyl, which is much stronger.

Neither police nor the butte county health department has yet confirmed whether this drug is on the streets in our area.

Judson Lea, Aegis Regional Clinic Manager, said he believes the epidemic has already spread to the North State.

“I think it's probably already here,” he said. “We haven't heard about the overdoses yet, but it's so close we're talking about an hour drive so it's probably in our area or will be in our area soon."

Aegis treatment centers serves Butte County with opiate addiction-counseling, case management and methadone assistance.

They said it's a problem that doesn't discriminate.

"About 15 percent of the population exposed to opiates can become rapidly addicted to them, so many of our patients started out with a legitimate pain management prescription and then got addicted to it," Lea said.

At Aegis, 55 percent of clients come in addicted to prescription opiates. Opiates are so physically addictive, that the withdrawal can be unbearable the users in Sacramento may not have been actually looking for a powerful drug like fentanyl.

“You’re going to use what's available in your environment, so if our environment is indicating that fentanyl is what's available on the street, and you know that's going to mitigate those withdrawal systems,” said Jennifer Stofa, Aegia Chico Clinic manager. “You're going to use what's available."

The DEA investigators say that patients who survived the overdoses claim they had thought they had purchased Norco, an opiate similar to Vicodin.

They’re getting desperate at this point, they're trying to find whatever they can on the streets, not knowing what they're taking and it could potentially lead to overdose or death."

Fentanyl works quickly in the human body to rapidly slow the heart rate- sometimes the effects are too quick to reverse.

“What’s scary about it is there's no opportunity to intervene, to make a different choice,” Stofa said. “As soon as that substance is in your system it's kind of a one and done situation."

Aegis clinicians recommend anyone who uses opiates have naltrexone, or narcan on hand.

It’s a drug that reverses the effects of opiates and can save lives.

"These kids, their intention wasn't to overdose and die. And here, that's there last opportunity. It’s very sad," Stofa said.

This opiate epidemic is getting national attention. The Obama administration introduced a set of initiatives this week that would make it easier for doctors to use addiction-fighting drugs like methadone to fight opiate abuse.


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