The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has found a link between a batch of counterfeit acetaminophen pills and multiple overdoses and deaths in Sacramento, California. According to Law Enforcement officials, the pills were distributed in the street, containing Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic analgesic more potent than morphine and heroin.

Since March 23, there have been 42 opioid-related overdoses and 10 deaths in the region, including 9 in Sacramento County and one in Yolo County, said the DEA in a press release. Most cases have been linked to Fentanyl.

Sherri Dolk, who lost her eldest daughter, Tina Espey, 19, to a fentanyl overdose last December, has since become active in raising awareness about fentanyl addiction. Credit: The Star

Fentanyl is up to 50 times more potent than heroin and up to 100 times more potent than morphine, explains the DEA. However, it appears that the drug was sold in the street as acetaminophen or Norco, a combination medication that contains a narcotic pain reliever called hydrocodone plus acetaminophen, said the Sacramento County.

People affected said they obtained the drugs from strangers or from neighbors and friends. That said, authorities at the Sacramento County said in a press conference that the pills have been tested and they do not contain Hydrocodone or Acetaminophen. Instead, they contain Fentanyl.

“The lab was able to identify the pills as containing Fentanyl instead.  This indicates that they are really Fentanyl pills (street drugs—counterfeit) that have been made to look like Norco.” Said the Sacramento County on Monday.

The symptoms of opioid overdose are unconsciousness, trouble breathing, bluish discoloration of the skin, vomiting, and pinpoint pupils, said the Sacramento County on Tuesday. However, an overdose can be reversed with Naloxone, which blocks the effects of opioid medication.

Health officials in the U.S. and Canada are seeking to expand access to Naloxone

Illinois pharmacists can now sell Naloxone to people who don’t have a prescription after they approve the Illinois State Opioid Antagonist Training Program. The latter comes as part of a law issued by the state in 2015, seeking to reduce opioid overdose deaths, according to Advantage.

Pharmacists can register for the program online to learn about Naloxone guidelines. This new measure comes after 1,705 people died as a consequence of opioid overdose in Illinois in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Canada announced Tuesday that Naloxone is now available without a prescription, all across the country, said the Vancouver Sun. The new measures aim to prevent drug overdoses since there have been reports of bad batches of fentanyl and a new drug called W-18, a strong painkiller that is 100 times more powerful than fentanyl, said Health Canada.

President Obama has presented new actions to face the opioids epidemic in the U.S.

President Barack Obama announced last week new actions to fight the prescription opioid abuse and heroin epidemic in the United States. Previously, he has requested $1.1 billion to the Congress to offer addiction treatments to Americans. Given than the rates of deaths from opioids has increased 200% since 2000, according to the CDC.

New measures plan to expand access to treatment, prevent overdose deaths and enhance prevention strategies all across the country. Several private and public institutions will collaborate with the proposal, releasing more than $200 million to improve drug overdose assistance and expand access to treatment centers.

“When you look at the staggering statistics in terms of lives lost, productivity impacted, cost to communities, costs to families, it has to be something that has to be right up there at the top of our radar screen,” Obama told a town hall meeting at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit, according to Medscape.

There are more deaths caused by opioid overdose in the U.S. than deaths caused by car accidents

According to a report published by the CDC, there were 47,000 drug overdose deaths in the country, in 2014. Since 2000, the rate of deaths from drug overdoses has increased 137%. However, the numbers increase to 200% when just taking into account opioid overdoses deaths (opioid pain relievers and heroin).

“Opioid prescribing continues to fuel the epidemic”, in 15 years, 1650,000 people have died in the country as a consequence overdoses related to prescription opioids such as methadone, oxycodone, and hydrocodone added the CDC.

Health authorities have announced that there are not enough physicians in the U.S., qualified to treat drug abuse. As a result, treatment programs have lengthy lists. MedScape seems to suggest that 4 out of 5 addicts cannot receive treatment, even if they want.

Source: Drug Enforcement Administration