By Roger Dey

Lewis and Clark County Sheriff warns of dangerous new form of fentanyl


February 6, 2019

A recent spate of deaths in Montana from fentanyl, one of the nation's most dangerous drugs, prompted Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton to speak out about the problem last week during Friday's Government Day Meeting in Lincoln.

Dutton reported that a week before last an individual in Helena died from a fentanyl overdose after chewing a transdermal patch containing the synthetic opioid, and last week Billings saw three deaths from fentanyl overdoses.

The deaths in Billings have been a cause for concern due to the fact the fentanyl appeared to be a more commonly abused prescription opioid.

"Now some enterprising individuals... have made a bunch of pills that look like OxyContin and Oxycodone...but they're fentanyl," Dutton said.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that's 50 times more potent than heroin. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency a lethal dose for most people is considered to be only about two milligrams, which makes overdose or accidental exposure a major concern.

Janssen Pharmaceutical developed fentanyl in 1959 for medical use as a pain reliever and anesthetic, but illicit use in recent years prompted the DEA to issue a nationwide alert about it in 2015 as a threat to public safety and health. In December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention named fentanyl America's deadliest drug.

"Fentanyl is extremely lethal," Dutton said. "It takes just a little bit and it will cause you to go into respiratory distress and cardiac arrest."

Dutton said the distributor in Billings who sold the fentanyl pills disguised as Oxy will probably take his or her business on the road and eventually reach Helena and the surrounding area. He's been trying to get word out about the new pills due to the extreme danger they pose to people who buy OxyContin or Oxycodone illegally.

"If you have somebody you know who you think has potential (to buy Oxy illegally), tell them 'if you're buying Oxy's to get high, the chances are extremely high that you're going to get fentanyl.'"

He said they won't know it, but their friends will and he will as part of his coroner duties. Dutton urged anyone who may have purchased OxyContin or oxycodone illicitly to dispose of them at the pill receptacle located at the new Law and Justice Center on 406 Fuller Ave. In Helena.

"You can come in and get rid of it, no questions asked," he said, adding they don't take names or identify people using the drop box. "Don't flush it down the toilet because it causes problems in the ecosystem."

In addition to fentanyl, Dutton said they also have to deal with carfentanil, a drug developed as an elephant tranquilizer that is approximately 100 times more potent than fentanyl.

Although narcan or naloxone can be used to treat a fentanyl overdose, carfentanil requires up to six doses and that isn't always enough.

"It's amazing what people do to get high, but they're affecting you and me now. The deaths are a very definitive issue we can get out to the public as a public health issue," Dutton said.


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