A powerful synthetic drug that is being disguised and illegally sold as a prescription painkiller has caused six deaths and 22 overdoses in Sacramento County, Calif., in less than a week, an official said.
The episodes, have been scattered throughout the county of 1.5 million people, said the official, Laura McCasland, a spokeswoman for the Sacramento County Department of Health and Human Services.
The victims took what they believed to be Norco, a prescription drug made up of acetaminophen and hydrocodone that is used to treat pain.
“In reality, they’re taking fentanyl, which is much, much, much more potent,” Ms. McCasland said.
Fentanyl is a painkiller that is up to 50 times more powerful than heroin and up to 100 times more potent than morphine. Even a very small amount can be deadly.
In the Sacramento County cases, fentanyl was being produced that was similar in appearance to Norco, Ms. McCasland said. Some overdose survivors said they bought the pills from strangers, and others said that they got them from neighbors and friends, health officials said.
The cases recorded in Sacramento County are part of a wider drug epidemic that has been fueled by prescription painkillers.
John J. Martin, the special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s San Francisco field division, said officials nationally were seeing a rise in seizures of fentanyl, which is being produced in China and shipped to Mexico. He said the large number of deaths and overdoses attributed to fentanyl in Sacramento County were a first for his office, which covers 48 California counties.
The people who overdosed in Sacramento County were evenly divided between men and women, and ranged from 24 to 59 years old, Ms. McCasland said.