At least four people have died in the last 48 hours as result of a wave of opioid overdoses occurring in middle Georgia, said health officials Tuesday afternoon. In the past 48 hours, emergency responders have found people who were either unconscious or had stop breathing.
Many of the patients had to be placed on ventilators, according to a statement from the Georgia Department of Public Health.
Patients reportedly purchased yellow pills alleged to be Percocet, a known opioid pain medication, said the Georgia Department of Public Health, which is also cooperating with state and federal agencies to assess what caused the overdose wave.
At least four people have died from ‘yellow pills’ overdoses
Percocet is a brand-name drug that contains oxycodone, a powerful opioid painkiller, as well as the analgesic pain reliever acetaminophen. The health department noted that the drugs involved in the overdoses are likely not real prescription drugs, or may contain other compounds that were unknown to the consumers.
The health department said in its statement that “massive doses” of naloxone had been used to revive people with overdoses. Naloxone is a drug that counteracts opioid overdoses, and it was necessary to treat people who ingested the yellow pills, which health officials believe had a toxic ingredient that has not been identified. By the time the statement was released, two deaths had been reported; however, the number could be as high as four.
“Testing is being done to identify the pills and the ingredients,” said the Georgia Department of Public Health in the statement, according to Reuters.
More than a dozen cases have been reported in three emergency departments in Bibb County and some surrounding counties over the past few days, said Chris Hendry, chief medical officer at Navicent Health in Macon.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said earlier Tuesday that dozens of overdoses had been reported in Macon, Centerville, Perry, Warner Robins, and Albany. The agency stressed that some of the people found weren’t even breathing or were unconscious. GBI spokeswoman Nelly Miles said that more reports were coming in and the number of deaths could rise.
“There is a new drug that’s surfaced in our community,” said Hendry during a press conference on Tuesday, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Hendry stated that the yellow pills are being sold on the streets as Percocet, and he noted that the drug can cause severe levels of unconsciousness and respiratory failure. He urged residents not to take any medications other than those prescribed to them by a licensed doctor or obtained at a pharmacy.
Health officials believe ‘yellow pills’ may be laced with fentanyl
Health officials noted that toxicology reports are not back yet, so it’s unclear what exactly the new drug is. Hendry said it is possible the drug could be a homemade compound made with the potent opioid fentanyl, which has been linked to a significant number of overdose deaths across the United States in recent years.
According to law enforcement, people affected reported the drug as “yellow pills” being sold on the streets as Percocet. The GBI said they still don’t know what the drug is either. Pills and drugs sold on the street are often laced with many other drugs, most times without the knowledge of the buyer, according to Miles.
The Georgia Department of Public Health said the substance is “extremely potent.” The Department, along with law enforcement agencies, warned that while overdose reports have so far been limited to counties in middle and south Georgia, the “yellow pills” may also be sold on the street elsewhere in the state.
Drug overdoses became the leading cause of death among people under 50
The opioid crisis in the United States has pushed overdose death statistics to new heights in the last couple of years. In February, the National Center for Health Statistics said that drug-overdose deaths quadrupled in five years to 52,404 in 2015. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among people under 50 years of age in the country.
Heroin-related deaths also rose in that period, going from 3,036 in 2010 to 12,989 in 2015, totaling for a 24.3 percent of all overdose-involved fatalities, reported the NCHS. Overdose fatality rates also increased for all age groups in the last fifteen years. Deaths of people aged 55-64 marked the greatest percentage increase (4.2 per 100,000 in 1999 to 21.8 in 2015), according to data from the NCHS.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said earlier this year that the five leading causes of death in the United States were cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, heart disease, stroke and unintentional injuries, including overdoses. The CDC noted that these leading causes of death had a bigger impact on rural areas of the U.S., such as central Georgia, as opposed to urban communities.
According to a recent analysis, drug overdoses killed about 1,000 people a year between 2006 and 2014.
Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution