What is ‘Mexican oxy’ and why is it starting to spread in Mississippi?

For the first time in Mississippi, authorities are seeing what they call “Mexican oxy” appearing on the streets, and they are warning the public about it.

There have been five overdoses and one death in the past two weeks in the Hattiesburg area related to illegal drugs laced with fentanyl — an opiod 100 times stronger than morphine.

In May, a bad batch of oxycodone laced with fentanyl was going around Gulport, Police Chief Leonard Papania said.

Papania warned that consuming the pills could be lethal.

Here’s what you need to know about the highly dangerous drug that has been surfacing in the last few years in the U.S.

What is Mexican oxy?

It’s a counterfeit oxycodone that is being made by cartels in Mexico and shipped into the United States, officials say.

Though pharmaceutical fentanyl is legal in the United States for treatment of cancer patients, illicitly manufactured versions are often mixed with heroin or cocaine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why is it so dangerous?

Intentionally mislabeled as oxycodone, the drug can easily kill someone, first bringing about a comatose state before death. The black-market pills are cheap — $15 to $20 — and there’s no way for addicts to tell if it’s genuine oxycodone.

Where is it coming from?

The primary source of the fentanyl is China, where thousands of illicit labs led by rogue chemists manufacture fentanyl and a raft of copycat substances.

Experts say the primary buyers are Mexican drug cartels, who mix the fentanyl with heroin and other substances and then smuggle those diluted mixtures across the U.S.-Mexico border and through the mail.

What is Mississippi doing to fight its spread?

John Dowdy with the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics is working with county and local officials on law enforcement efforts to get the powerful drugs off the street. There have been two arrests and more are expected in what is an ongoing investigation.

In addition, Narcan, used for the complete or partial reversal of opioid overdose, has been placed in the hands of authorities and those in danger of overdose.

Warn family members, friends

Dowdy said family members need to watch out for relatives who are drug addicts during this potentially dangerous time.

“People need to be mindful of the fact that if you have someone in your family who is a drug addict, you probably need to have this conversation with them,” he said. “Regardless if it is methamphetamine, marijuana or prescription pills, the chances of their getting a dosage unit contaminated with fentanyl is pretty high right now.”

Dowdy said he would like to see enhanced penalties for drug dealers whose customers end up injured or dead because of contaminated drugs, but Mississippi law doesn’t allow it.

“These drug dealers don’t care about the people they’re selling to,” he said. “They’re just looking to make money.”