Dangerous drug blamed for killing 20 New Mexicans in past year

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A very dangerous drug that’s been sweeping through the country is now killing people in New Mexico. People can confuse the pill with painkillers like Oxy, and with painkiller abuse being so widespread, the victims aren’t just hard-core drug users.

Fentanyl — not the kind prescribed to severe pain patients — is being cut with street drugs, like heroin, even disguised as prescription pills.

“What we initially thought were Oxycodone, and once they were tested at the laboratory they were proved to be fentanyl,” Sean Waite said.

Sean Waite is the Operations Director for the Drug Enforcement Agency in northern New Mexico. He said the fentanyl they see is manufactured in China with no standards for potency.

“This packet contains about 1,000 milligrams of Splenda. To put it in perspective, just one granule of Splenda is equal to one dose of fentanyl,” said Waite. “If a very small amount is very powerful, how do you effectively dilute that down?”

That issue becomes one of life and death.

“We have been ordering this more expanded panel of testing on more people,” Dr. Hanna Kastenbaum.

Dr. Hanna Kastenbaum’s patients are the ones who don’t survive. She’s a medical investigator with Bernalillo County.

Kastenbaum said the illicit drug nearly slipped past their radar.

“The initial toxicology testing was negative,” said Dr. Kastenbaum.

The office has since identified six deaths due to illicit fentanyl.

Dr. Drew Harell is an emergency medical professor at the University of New Mexico. He said his greatest concern is how much medicine they need to treat an overdose.

“The normal reversal amounts or the normal reversal timelines don’t apply,” said Dr. Drew Harell.

That means, there may not be enough medicine to treat widespread overdoses.

The drug has killed 20 people in New Mexico in the past year. Alerts went out around the country to emergency responders, warning them how touching even tiny amounts of fentanyl in its pure powder form can be deadly.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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