To combat fentanyl abuse in Iowa, state emphasizes awareness of counterfeit pills
(WOWT) - Officials in Iowa are stepping up efforts to prevent fentanyl abuse and drug trafficking by encouraging Iowans to be vigilant about how the drug makes its way into communities in Iowa and Nebraska.
“There has been an obvious increase in fentanyl deaths across Iowa,” authorities said. The majority of those deaths were determined to be accidental.
It’s a problem happening across the country: Counterfeit pills that look legit but turn out to be deadly. People are taking prescription drugs that they think are real, like oxycontin or Percoset, but they actually contain a fatal amount of fentanyl.
Just a trace of fentanyl — an amount that doesn’t even cover the tip of a pencil — is enough to kill you. And the Drug Enforcement Agency said four of every 10 pills laced with fentanyl have a lethal amount. Investigators said those taking one of these pills is really playing Russian roulette.
And the dangers of fentanyl know no border.
Iowa, like Nebraska, has seen skyrocketing numbers of pills laced with fentanyl, flooding urban and rural neighborhoods. Even narcotic experts and chemists can’t tell to good from the bad.
According to a 2022 report, the Iowa Department of Public Health determined that 87% of the opioid-related deaths in 2021, through that September, involved fentanyl. Just last month in the Iowa communities of Atlantic and Lews, about an hour from Omaha, federal investigators arrested five people on charges connected to counterfeit fentanyl pills. There had been five overdoses and two deaths in the community.
Studies have shown that use of fentanyl and heroin increased as the COVID-19 pandemic set in, as did lab reports of cases where fentanyl had been combined with other synthetic opioids.
“Combinations of these substances are becoming more common and dangerous,” the report states. “...The study suggests fentanyl is increasingly likely to be found in, or taken with, other drugs, resulting in dangerous drug combinations, often without the user’s knowledge. Because fentanyl is so potent, this can often have devastating consequences.”
According to a release from Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office, the state’s crime lab analyzed 17,163 fentanyl pills disguised as prescription drugs in 2021.
“In the first six months of 2022, that number has quadrupled to 70,556 fentanyl pills disguised as prescription drugs,” the release states.
Opioid use and overdoses have increased during the pandemic. The Iowa Department of Public Health reports that its seen a 34% increase in drug overdose deaths in the past two years, reporting 470 in 2021 and 350 in 2019. Most of those were due to opioids, with fentanyl use blamed for 83% of the statewide opioid deaths last year, according to the release.
Among Iowans younger than age 25, drug overdose deaths increased 120% in the past two years, rising from 20 in 2019 to 44 in 2021.
Reynolds held a news conference Tuesday morning to talk about the effects of fentanyl on Iowans, inviting state authorities and experts as well as the parents of an Iowa teen who died as a result of fentanyl use.
A year ago, 17-year-old Sebastian Kidd of central Iowa, took a half a pain killer before he went to sleep, and never woke up.
“He did not overdose. He did not want to leave this world,” his father, Deric Kidd, said during the news conference. “You don’t overdose on one Percoset or one Xanax. He was deceived to death by whoever so him that counterfeit pill. He was poisoned, for a lack of a better term.”
The family shared their pain publicly with Iowa’s governor with the hopes that other parents will talk to their children about the dangers of prescription drugs that weren’t purchased at a pharmacy.
“Kids think they are invincible. They are naive. They are trusting... One bad decision is all it takes,” Kidd said at the news conference. “This problem isn’t going away. I need parents to hear these words and make sure they resonate.”
Don’t think it won’t happen to you, he said, encouraging parents to talk with their kids in an effort to keep them safe from drug abuse.
His statements brought the governor to tears as she introduced Iowa law enforcement and narcotics authorities.
“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate — and Iowans appreciate — your bravery in coming here today to tell your story, and help save another son or daughter,” she said. “There’s more to be done to combat this crisis.”
Authorities warned that such abuse and addiction can begin with counterfeit pills made to look like legitimate medications but that could contain lethal doses of fentanyl. Use safe, verified pharmacies to avoid these counterfeit medications, and trust pills only from a reliable source prescribed to you from a prescription from your pharmacist.
“If the information today scares you, it should,” Reynolds said, encouraging parents to talk with their children about the dangers of drug use. Kids need to know about the lethal consequences of experimenting with drugs, she said, especially with so many these days being laced with fentanyl.
The governor also called on President Biden to secure the U.S.-Mexico border. One official said during the news conference that most of the fentanyl coming into the country is coming from Mexico.
“The pill presses used by the cartels can create flawless reproductions of common prescription drugs,” said Stephan Bayens with IDPS. “Our own agents are trained to treat every pill they encounter that it contains fentanyl.”
What to do if you find suspicious pills
“Proper disposal is critical,” authorities said Tuesday.
Authorities ask that if you find suspicious medications, don’t flush them. Not only could it contaminate the water supply, but it also prevents investigators from determining their origin and working to stop local “pill mills” and “clandestine labs.”
Watch Tuesday’s news conference
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