Coast and Mississippi officials say a batch of blue pills circulating in South Mississippi could be fatal.
The Gulfport Police Department and Drug Enforcement Administration held a joint press conference Monday in a preemptive strike on the crisis that has already handcuffed much of the country.
Police Chief Leonard Papania said over the last few weeks his narcotic detectives have seized blue pills marked “A215” — which indicates it's supposed to be oxycodone. Instead, he said, when the DEA analyzed the pills, they found them to contain fentanyl without any oxycodone.
It's certainly not uncommon for drug dealers to be dishonest or simply not know what they're selling; however, what Coast police have found recently has put them on high alert.
“Although the counterfeit pill market is nothing new, it becomes life and death when fentanyl is involved,” he said. “... What we want to stress today is what you may anticipate you're getting is a far cry. You are going to die.”
So how much fentanyl is dangerous?
Derryle Smith, who is an assistant special agent with the DEA, likened the drug to the dosages in a common item found in most kitchens and diners.
“This was the best example given to me,” he said. “A sweetener packet contains two grams and this is lethal at the microgram level.
“You could kill several hundred people with that amount.”
Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fentanyl and its analogues killed more than 20,000 people in the U.S. in 2016, the CDC says.
Often, addicts and users know exactly how much of a particular drug they need to take to reach a desired effect, Papania said. When they're unsure exactly what they're ingesting, however, the consequences can be fatal.
“That's where it's concerning,” he said. “It's not like you have to spend one week of abusing to hit that toxic level.”
Papania said agents and officers are working to diligently identify the source — or sources — of the pills. Smith added that they're unable at this time to attach a specific number of illnesses or deaths to this batch of counterfeit pills.
“We have been tracking this across the country and seeing the impacts. Quite honestly, it has been our fear that it would make landfall here,” Papania said. “Don't know the measure of it here yet, but any presence of it is concerning.”
'What's the loss?'
Anyone with information on illegal narcotics activity is encouraged to call 228-868-5959.
“A lot of people will watch this and their knee-jerk reaction is going to be 'Well it's just another pill head or addict dying from this. What's the loss?' ” Papania said. “The opioid addiction issue that's facing our city and the rest of the nation is far-reaching.
“It reaches into our own families and friends and we need to get serious about addressing it.”
From January 2017 through September 2017, Mississippi had 41 drug overdoses and most of those were from synthetic opioids, Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics Director John Dowdy said in a previous Sun Herald report.
Sun Herald reporter Robin Fitzgerald contributed to this report.