SLO County sheriff issues warning after man found dead with fentanyl

OxyContin, in 80 mg pills, in a 2013 file image.
OxyContin, in 80 mg pills, in a 2013 file image.

Authorities have determined the powerful opioid medication fentanyl may have played a role the death of a 26-year-old man who was found dead last month in Oak Shores near Lake Nacimiento.

Drugs were collected at the scene where the man was discovered with a hypodermic needle still in his forearm and turned over to the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Crime Lab for testing.

A white powder and clear liquid both tested positive for fentanyl, according to a release from the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office, which has issued a warning to the public and first responders about the dangers of the potent drug. The department also was involved with a narcotic seizure in early 2016 focusing on China white heroin laced with fentanyl.

A story published in the Sacramento Bee last April detailed the startling rise of fentanyl and the rash of overdoses and deaths left in its wake — part of an ongoing opiate epidemic nationally.

Legally prescribed fentanyl is a highly potent painkiller, typically used in hospitals as skin patches or “lollipops” to treat cancer patients, the story said. On the illegal market, it’s become a popular street drug, known to deliver a high that’s considered 50 times more powerful than heroin.

Despite its deadly reputation, the story said, fentanyl has proved appealing to drug dealers because it’s relatively cheap to manufacture and highly sought after by addicts.

Investigators say the chemical components are often created in China, smuggled into Mexico and stamped into fake hydrocodone tablets that resemble, for example, Norco. But synthetic fentanyl is also available illegally online.

A June 5 story published in the New York Times said drug overdose deaths in 2016 likely exceeded 59,000, the largest annual jump ever recorded in the United States.

Because drug deaths take a long time to certify, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will not be able to calculate final numbers until December, the story said.

The preliminary data compiled by the New York Times said there were more than 4,600 drug overdose deaths in California last year — the highest of any state by a wide margin.