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WESTERN OREGON — Drug use in Oregon is on the rise and now a new class of drugs is making its way into the state and putting addicts and first responders at risk.
The Drug Enforcement Administration started issuing alerts to law enforcement agencies in 2014 to warn about the dangers of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid similar to morphine but 10 to 50 times more potent.
"We come across fentanyl all of the time," said Capt Kelley Andrews, Coos County Sheriff's Office.
Kelly is referring to prescription fentanyl, specifically, fentanyl patches. Even though the patches are legal, they pose a risk to first responders.
"Those are the patches that if you touch them with bare skin you are exposed," added Kelley.
Also on the DEA's radar, are fentanyl analogues, many of them sold as designer drugs. Then, there are street concoctions, drugs being cut with fentanyl and other chemicals.
"The product, you are buying is a purported product, not an actual product. You're not buying from a licensed registered facility and you are taking it on faith from an unknown person that what you're taking is what you say it is," said Acting Special Agent in Charge Cam Strahm, Drug Enforcement Administration.
The most potent fentanyl analog is carfentanil, a sedative drug for elephants that is 10,000 times as potent as a unit of morphine.
The Oregon State Medical Examiner said a death reported in May 2017 in Multnomah County was linked to carfentanil.
Fentanyl analogues are responsible for dozens of deaths. KEZI confirmed 29 deaths in Multnomah County as a result of cyclopropyl fentanyl, which first showed up in May of 2017. The state examiner said nine people have died from fentanyl analog overdoses in Western Oregon with seven of the deaths in Lane County.
Drug task force teams like the SCINT, South Coast Interagency Narcotics Team, are on the lookout for fentanyl and other opioid drugs, but there are other drugs dominating the market.
"Methamphetamines I would say is the king. It's the number one drug. Heroin is becoming more and more prevalent. We watched this increase since 2014, said Capt. Cal Mitts.
"One of the things we know drug traffickers are using Highway 101," added Mitts. "(The year) 2017, is a perfect case example for SCINT. It was the largest year on record for the number of actual seizures of methamphetamines."
One of the biggest busts in Coos County history happened in March of 2017 during an Oregon State Police traffic stop on Highway 101. Coquille Tribal Police K9 Ben and Coos Bay Police Department K9 Katie alerted police to hidden drugs in the vehicle. Detectives recovered 10.8 pounds of meth with a street value of $271,000.
SCINT said it's a huge cash business that preys upon addicts.
"Cartels have maintained and been successful being able to drop the prices of these drugs," said Mitts.
"What I've seen in the last 15 years, it a complete switch. Now the drugs aren't made there, they are brought here. The drug cartels are taking over the industry whether it be the marijuana industry, the meth industry, the heroin; it's all coming in via them," added Andrews.
According to the DEA, U.S. drug overdose deaths exceeding 63,000 in 2017 and the number is driven five-fold by an increase in synthetic opioids.
"We don't know what we are dealing with. We know it's a white powder substance but as a result, our agents don't field test in the street or the office," said Strahm.
The DEA announced its new field testing policy last year and other law enforcement agencies, including Oregon State Police, have followed suit due to fentanyl analogues and the dangers they present.
The DEA is also alerting police agencies nationwide about the dangers of fentanyl through bulletins and training videos
Springfield Police Lt. Scott McKee said fentanyl is on SPD's radar.
"We've seen fentanyl. We've seen heroin that we believe has fentanyl in it," added McKee.
KEZI 9 News has learned all Springfield Police patrol vehicles will soon be equipped with the life-saving drug Narcan, a nasal spray that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
According to Lt. McKee, there will be two doses per patrol car at a cost of $75.
Springfield Police said the Narcan supply is also to ensure the safety of police in the event an officer comes in contact with fentanyl.
"If someone touches the substance without gloves on it can immediately be absorbed into the system. If it becomes airborne, it can be inhaled in that pure form and render someone unconscious," added McKee.
Springfield police will start Narcan training this month. KEZI 9 News also learned Eugene Police will start Narcan training as well. EPD said Narcan will be available for officers to carry at their own discretion.
United States Drug Enforcement Administration - Fentanyl