MEDFORD, Ore.– A new drug that has made it’s way into the Rogue Valley in the past couple years has law enforcement and health officials concerned about the potential it has to disrupt the community.
It’s called fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that medical practitioners use in controlled doses as anesthesia or as painkillers for chronic pain. As an illicit drug however, it can ravage abusers due to it’s highly addictive nature.
What has law enforcement concerned though is drugs laced with fentanyl and how cheap and potent just a small dose can be.
“It’s 100 times, 1000 times more potent than heroin depending on which kind of fentanyl we’re talking about,” said Dr. Jim Shames, medical director for Jackson County. “It takes very little to be fatal.”
Over a seven week period this spring, 10 people in Jackson County died of suspected heroin overdoses. The Medford Police Department recently received nine of the toxicology reports and found that three of the overdoses had fentanyl in their system.
MPD says this proves what was suspected – fentanyl is on the rise in the county.
“The majority of people who are overdosing on illicit drugs or actually any drugs is fentantyl,” said Shames. “So in the period of just a couple years, fenantyl has become the dangerous drug for us to be paying attention to.”
Shames said that five years ago prescription drugs were the major cause of overdoses. Then three years ago it was heroin. Now, fenantyl has made a mark. Shames says that in other communities where fentanyl has showed up, the amount of overdoses increase dramatically.
Law enforcement in the area is seeing it first hand.
Lt. Mike Budreau of MPD says they’ve seen a rise in cases of fentanyl-laced heroin. While it hasn’t become an epidemic, the valley has seen a trickle of fenantyl slowly seeping in. The concern is that the county might fall into the same hole that other communities have fallen into.
“There’s always drugs being brought into the valley constantly,” he said. “But we’re not sure how powerful those products are and what we’re concerned about is if we’re gonna have another spike like we did last month.”
While meth, cocaine and other drugs can be laced with fenantyl, so far MPD has no reason to suspect anything but heroin is being paired with the drug. Since the two have been found to be mixed in batches that come through the valley, officials want to warn people about the dangers.
“I mean, we all know that heroin usage is dangerous in and of itself,” said Budreau. “But when you add fentanyl to it, it becomes a game of Russian roulette. ”
While it’s still relatively new to the Rogue Valley, law enforcement and health officials want to get the jump on the drug and let the community, especially opioid users, know what they can do to ensure their safety.
- Know your tolerance
- Go slow – Do a test shot when using a new supply or after a break from jail.
- Be careful when mixing drugs, such as prescription drugs with hard drugs.
- Have an overdose plan – Make sure someone is with you
- Carry Naloxone
“You don’t know how powerful the product is going to be. There’s obviously no checks and balances on these types of drug dealers, obviously,” said Budreau. “But when there’s fentanyl involved, it’s a real game changer.”
Officials hope that these tips and more community awareness will help to prevent other people from getting hurt. The post even listed a Stay Safe Oregon’s website for people that are looking for treatment or recovery.
MPD acknowledged in their post that not everyone may believe in helping opioid users but as a department meant to ensure the public’s safety, that includes protecting people from drug deaths. Shames agrees.
“Folks get caught up in addiction and often through no fault of their own or just poor decisions,” he said “We have to keep everybody safe and we have to keep those that are using drugs safe as well.”
NBC5 News Reporter Miles Furuichi graduated from Chapman University with degrees in English and Journalism. He received post graduate experience in Los Angeles in photojournalism and commercial photography. He also spent time in Dublin, Ireland working in print journalism and advertising.
Miles is a Rogue Valley native, raised in Ashland. He enjoys hiking, mountain biking and photography.