With prescription drug abuse becoming a major health concern across the country and investigations into at least three local cases of suspected opioid overdoses, the Statesboro Police Department hopes to warn the public of the possible dangers of counterfeit substances.
Statesboro police detectives have investigated three deaths since April that could be attributed to “the apparent abuse of prescription drugs and/or counterfeit drugs,” said Statesboro police Chief Mike Broadhead in a statement released on the department’s Facebook page.
Abuse of opioids is the most pressing drug-related issue in Bulloch County, much like the rest of the nation, said Bulloch County Crime Suppression Team Capt. Jason Kearney.
“That has been our biggest problem for a while,” he said.
Bulloch County sheriff’s investigators have not encountered any cases involving suspected counterfeit drugs, but Statesboro detectives have seized several types of drugs, some of which were in powdered form, not just pill form, Broadhead said.
Investigations into the three suspected overdose deaths “have resulted in the seizures of a quantity of suspected oxycodone, Roxicodone, Xanax and unknown substances in powder form,” he said. “All of the deaths appear to have been accidental overdoses or adverse reactions to the abuse of the drugs,” and it appears that “all of the drugs were illegally obtained.”
Kearney said these prescribed opioid drugs are “like heroin, very addictive” and are often sold on the black market. Many people also go “doctor shopping” and get several duplicate prescriptions from multiple doctors, he said.
Broadhead said some people also purchase these drugs online, and that isn’t safe.
“Investigators suspect there is a good possibility that the drugs are counterfeit pills being obtained from internet sources and possibly contain substances such as fentanyl or other deadly chemicals,” he said.
According to www.drugabuse.gov, “Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. It is a schedule II prescription drug, and it is typically used to treat patients with severe pain or to manage pain after surgery. It is also sometimes used to treat patients with chronic pain who are physically tolerant to other opioids.”
In its prescription form, fentanyl is known by such names as Actiq, Duragesic and Sublimaze, but street names for fentanyl or fentanyl-laced heroin include Apache, China Girl, China White, Dance Fever, Friend, Goodfella, Jackpot, Murder 8, TNT, and Tango and Cash, according to the site.
While there has not been any definite seizure or presence of fentanyl-laced drugs found in Bulloch County, “we’ve heard about it” and are aware of the popularity, Kearney said. “There has been information about it sent statewide, and hopefully we won’t find any here.”
But the ever-growing danger of opioid abuse and tainted drugs is there, he said. Just because the pills are prescribed doesn’t mean they are safe.
“You can easily overdose on them, and they are highly addictive,” he said.
Broadhead warns the public to avoid taking any kind of pills not prescribed by your own doctor. All seized drugs are sent to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab in Savannah for analysis.
Anyone with drugs they may suspect are unsafe may anonymously deposit them in a drop box in the Statesboro Police Department lobby. Any unwanted, expired or obsolete drugs may be taken to the Operation Medicine Drop depository, which is accessible from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
“No personal contact is required for the drop off of medications in the drop box,” Broadhead said.
Anyone with information concerning opioid drug abuse or contamination is asked to contact the Statesboro Police Department at (912) 764-9911 or the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office at (912) 764-8888.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.