Overdose deaths see big increase; fentanyl blamed

Published: Nov. 17, 2021 at 6:43 PM PST
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - Deaths from drug overdoses have hit an all-time high and fentanyl, a synthetic opioid we’re hearing a lot about these days, is driving the increase.

Fentanyl poses an unusual danger to those using street drugs... and a real challenge to law enforcement.

Some are blaming the pandemic for the sudden rise of overdoses. while it may have played a part, Sheriff Darin Balaam says he saw the increase long before the virus arrived.

“It was already starting to increase. I can tell you in our overdoses we were already seeing it ramp up. In our seizures, we were starting to see more of it laced with fentanyl.”

The main reason for the spike of overdoses, he says, lies in the nature of the drug itself and how it’s being used.

Fentanyl is a powerful painkiller, offering relief to many when prescribed and administered in specific doses to those who need it. In the hands of a drug dealer, it’s a cheap way to increase the high from virtually any street drug. It could be hidden in any pills not distributed by a pharmacy, any marijuana product not purchased at a legal licensed dispensary. Even in small amounts, the sheriff says, it can be deadly.

“If they haven’t prepared for it to be fentanyl they’re going to overdose and before you know it, unfortunately, they’re not going to be with us.”

So fentanyl presents a different challenge for law enforcement and the rest of us. Those who are using street drugs the sheriff says, need treatment programs to steer them away from a potential, unexpected encounter with fentanyl. But law enforcement needs better tools.

Balaam says the last legislature raised the amount of drugs a dealer must be caught with to qualify for the most serious charge. “which is level one trafficking. otherwise, it’s going to be a lower-level charge of possession or a lower level trafficking charge which is only a few years in prison.”

He says he’ll be working to get the law changed during the next legislature. But the danger to the unsuspecting user will still be there and parents and others should waste no time in letting others know about it.

“If you’re buying it on the street just know that whatever you think you may be buying, odds are it’s going to have fentanyl in it.”

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