BOX ELDER COUNTY - By Ellen Cook, Headliner Media Specialist, March 1, 2023
There is a deadly epidemic in Box Elder County, one that is growing rapidly, hitting hard and taking lives. The killer is the opioid Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic analgesic that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent.
“In the last three months we have had three confirmed overdose deaths that we are aware of, and numerous, numerous Fentanyl overdoses (30 to 40) that did not end in death,” said an undercover agent with the Box Elder County Narcotics Strike Force.
Two more deaths, he continued, are currently classified as negligent homicides, “but we are looking at them pretty seriously. Methamphetamines are really big in our county, as well, but Fentanyl is the one that is killing people.”
Once prescribed as a pain reliever for cancer patients, this addictive drug has become the new heroin, and Box Elder County is turning into a prime distribution site.
“Heroin is starting to fade out in our county, and Fentanyl is taking over because it is a lot stronger, so users get their high a lot quicker,” he said, adding that even heroin users are getting a Fentanyl fix because distributers are mixing it with other drugs and getting more people hooked. “Once you get that high from the Fentanyl, you are going to want that high to keep going.”
Story continues below...
The agent said the drug is making its way into Utah by way of the Mexican cartel. “Most of the stuff we are getting is based out of Salt Lake, so people who are distributing it here are driving down to Salt Lake, picking it up there and bringing it back and delivering it to the users in this area.”
The goal of the Strike Force is to “Stop the Top,” at least as far as Utah is concerned. “We currently have about 20 open cases on Fentanyl users and dealers,” the agent said. “We have a pretty good idea who the dealers are, we just need to find out where they are. We are working a lot of hours to put a stop to it. It is one of our biggest priorities right now.”
That is where a public who is alert and aware can help.
Fentanyl comes in the form of blue pills – called Blues, Fents or Fenties or Dirty 30s. “If parents are looking through text messages and they see a code name like that, they are probably buying Fentanyl,” the agent said. They also come in a less powerful, but colorful “variety pack” known as “Skittles.”
Story continues below...
“These don’t have the potency that the powder does, but they are used the same way,” he continued. “As we talk to addicts we are finding out that the main people using these crush them and put them on tin foil. They light the bottom of the tin foil, a smoke comes up and they inhale the smoke.”
Fentanyl can also be injected by liquifying the crushed pills and putting it into a syringe. “It hits them instantly.” But this form of Fentanyl use is harder to regulate, he said. “That is the most common way they are overdosing – the injections. Users are just doing too much.”
Another issue is users build up a tolerance to the drug and so take more and more to get the same high. That high is short-lived, lasting about an hour before the user comes down. “They will stop using for a while and then go back to the larger amount they were using before and their body is not able to cope, and that will cause them to go into an overdose.”
Visible symptoms of an Fentanyl overload include restricted pupils, falling asleep or head nodding, unconsciousness, slow or weak breathing, throaty gurgling, clammy skin, or jaundice skin.
Family and friends who have watched someone deal with this addiction and feared for just such an outcome, have a savior in their corner, thanks to Naloxone, often known by the brand name Narcan.
The Strike Force operative said Narcan is available through the Health Department or at some pharmacies. “If you are a parent and you know that your loved one is on some kind of opioid, you know how hard it is to get them off it. Narcan is a good thing to have on hand.”
But that is where Fentanyl adds to the danger. “This stuff is so potent I have seen six or seven different sprays used on patients and it is still hard to bring them back.”
The local Narcotics Strike Force is asking the public to be their eyes and ears as they battle this death drug.
“We want to put the word out there that if you are aware that a loved one is using narcotics either reach out to us and let us know so we can try and get more information on where it is coming from or how we can deal with it that way. We also want people to be aware that Narcan is available and if your loved one is addicted to an opioid, keep it on hand. It is well worth it.”
Fentanyl is a killer and will continue to take lives in Box Elder County if not stopped, the agent said.
“Fentanyl hit us hard – BAM! It just came at us. We knew it was coming, we just hoped it wouldn’t be this soon. Now we are seeing a lot of it and we are just trying to cut down on the deaths.”