A killer more powerful than heroin: Could it be coming to Utah?

A killer more powerful than heroin: Could it be coming to Utah?

(KUTV) Over 100 people in Utah died from heroin overdoses in 2014. Over 300 died from prescription pain pill or opioid overdose. Now, fentanyl, a drug that's more powerful and potentially more deadly is killing people on the east coast at an alarming rate. Some fear it won't be long before it shows up in Utah - if it hasn't already.

"There will be no warning until the coroner is picking up the people who have died. It's awful, " said Dr. Jennifer Plumb, an emergency room physician at Primary Children's Medical Center.

Fentanyl is a powerful prescription pain medication given by doctors to people who have serious pain. The version that's killing a lot of people lately is illegally produced and often mixed with heroin.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says many drug users think they are using heroin not knowing it's spiked with Fentanyl that is 25 to 50 times stronger than plain heroin. The result is deadly.

The DEA issued a warning saying that fentanyl and fentanyl produced in clandestine drug labs are extremely dangerous, 100 times stronger than morphine.

The illegally produced fentanyl often comes from China or Mexico. Its use in the northeast increased exponentially in the last two years. DEA says traffickers began spiking heroin with fentanyl to increase its strength. DEA has been making more seizures of fentanyl and other synthetic drugs.

DEA spokesperson Rusty Payne he would be surprised if this illegally produced fentanyl hasn't made it to the streets of Utah.

In Utah, Plumb has been on the front lines of the fight against overdose deaths. Outside of the emergency room, she's been giving naloxone (also known as Narcan) rescue kits to family members and friends of pain-pill or heroin addicts. She's also trained police officers to use it.

Naloxone is a mediation that can reverse a heroin overdose. So far, the Utah Naloxone Project headed by Plumb has saved over 50 lives in Utah.

Naloxone, especially the dosage found in the rescue kits, may not be enough to save the life of someone who overdoses on fentanyl-laced heroin.

"It takes much more naloxone to reverse it," said Plumb.

In a hospital setting, it often takes an hours-long IV drip of naloxone to get a fentanyl overdose patient breathing again.

Robbie Bills, Executive Director of Balance House, a transitional home for people who've finished drug treatment, said he is confident fentanyl is already being sold in Utah.

Like any other drug, he feels it's for sale on the streets and at any high school in the Salt Lake Valley.

"If it's not here in a major way, it will be eventually," he said, lamenting that more people will die.

Bills said he personally knew 23 people who died in the past year from addiction.

"A lot of times I feel like I'm watching a slow-moving train wreck," he said of the overdose epidemic in Utah.

For more information:

Utah Department of Health

Drug Enforcement Administration

FBI - Chasing the Dragon

About Dr. Jennifer Plumb and Utah Naloxone:

About Robbie Bills and Balance House:

Bills, who is a recovering alcoholic, sober for eight years, said the people who are dying are young and from good, average Utah families. His facility focuses on men and women ages 17 to 34. The Balance House website features a group photo of young faces - all young people who struggled with drugs and finished treatment and lived at Balance House before living on their own in a world that still doesn't understand addiction and isn't always kind to addicts.

Bills encourages people who have prescription pain pills in their homes to keep them out of sight and safely dispose of unused pills at designated locations.

Many young people who end up addicted to pain pills, and eventually to heroin, raid their parents' medicine cabinet. Some, get hooked on pain pills after they were prescribed for surgery.

Bills was never addicted to pain pills. He said as a high school football player in Utah, he began taking ephedrine pills to get in shape. Soon he was taking up to an entire bottle at once. Then, he started using meth. He drank to "level-off."

He said the addiction "demolished" his life.

Now, he uses his life experience to guide young people on to a life of better health and happiness where they can rejoin life and repair relationships with their loved ones.

Follow Cristina Flores on Twitter @Cristina2News for breaking news, updates and more.

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