Mystery Pill Kills Four, Hospitalizes 30 In Georgia

By Britni de la Cretaz 06/09/17

People who bought the pill on the street thought they were buying Percocet.

hands exchanging money for pills

The identity of a “mystery pill” that has killed four and hospitalized 30 more in Georgia this week has been identified.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation says it contains a “fentanyl analogue” its crime lab has never seen before, according to WSB-TV. The people who purchased the pills believed they were buying Percocet.

The overdoses occurred in middle Georgia and a statement from the Georgia Department of Public Health said the substance is “extremely potent” and “required massive doses of naloxone (Narcan) to counteract its effects.”

Officials in the state were scrambling to test the drugs and identify the components. “The GBI is doing toxicology now to see what exactly is the makeup of this pill but the medical people tell us it’s some type of opiate,” Bibb County Sheriff David Davis told WSB-TV on Wednesday.

The GBI confirmed this Thursday when they announced that the pills contained a mix of two synthetic opioids, with one of the drugs being the new fentanyl analogue that hadn’t before been identified by the GBI Crime Lab.

This is not the first time fentanyl—which is many times stronger than heroin—has been to blame for the increasing lethality of the opioid epidemic. Heroin cut with fentanyl to make the drugs more potent have been to blame for rashes of overdoses in the past. 

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there was a 426% increase in seized drug products that tested positive for fentanyl between 2013 to 2014; other data shows the number of deaths involving synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, went up by 79% during that same period.

In 2015, the Drug Enforcement Administration released a warning about the drug, saying, "Drug incidents and overdoses related to fentanyl are occurring at an alarming rate” and calling it a "significant threat to public health and safety." Last year, the DEA issued another warning, this time about counterfeit prescription pills—like the ones found in Georgia—that actually contain fentanyl.

To counteract the fatality of the drug, people working in the field of addiction treatment and support services have been trying to come up with tactics to help their clients. In the Bronx, a harm-reduction center has been giving out fentanyl test strips to people so they can test their drugs before using them in the hopes they’ll be able to be more cautious if they know they’re cut with fentanyl.

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.