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Fentanyl street pills mistaken for Norco result in death

Posted on 04-02-16 in Addiction, Substance Abuse

Fentanyl street pills mistaken for Norco result in death

“A sixth person has died in Sacramento County as a result of ingesting pills made to look like a prescription painkiller,” reports KCRA in a newscast and article released on March 31. Officials from the Sacramento County Division of Public Health confirmed the six fatalities, as well as 28 other cases of individuals who became sick after taking the street-bought drug.

Illicit street drugs have been a hot commodity for many years allowing easy access for anyone searching for a pill to relieve pain and anxiety, or just to take the edge off. However, people cannot determine the true makeup of a pill unless they manufactured it themselves and, as a result, pills are now laced and mixed with extremely dangerous ingredients, resulting in addiction, overdose and death. Street pill mills are a cash business and it can be very lucrative as well as illegal. One 80-milligram pill of OxyContin can go for $80 on the streets of L.A., according to a recent CNN Money news report, which also states that this street pill industry is becoming a billion dollar industry and can incur felony charges if individuals are caught.

Facts about fentanyl

Classified by the Drug Enforcement Agency as a Schedule II drug, fentanyl is stronger than hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine and heroin. It is rarely, if ever, prescribed on an outpatient basis and is generally used for patients who are in severe pain in the hospital due to cancer or a major surgery or who are on hospice care.

Fentanyl comes in many forms, including pills, injections, patches and even lollipops. People have been eating fentanyl off the patches, resulting in overdose and death, showing the extreme measures that addiction to this narcotic can cause. Therefore, if fentanyl is this strong of a pain medication and is only prescribed under very limited circumstances, it is no surprise that, when milder painkillers are laced with this lethal narcotic, people are becoming sick and even dying.

Mistaken for Norco pills

The illnesses and deaths in Sacramento occurred because fentanyl pills were sold on the street to mimic Norco pills, a much weaker narcotic. Norco is a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen and is commonly prescribed in the outpatient setting for mild to moderate pain. Hydrocodone is classified as a Schedule II drug by the DEA and has the same addiction and overdose potential as other narcotics and, unfortunately, is overprescribed by many physicians. It is still unclear whether the consumers in Sacramento knew they were receiving fentanyl pills or Norco pills, as investigators are still looking into this matter.

“Toxicology reports Tuesday show the pills are actually fentanyl pills made to look like Norco tablets. The health department said the test results showed signs of hydrocodone and acetaminophen,” according to another KCRA news report. “Fentanyl is being produced to a large extent in China. We believe from there it is being shipped to Mexico to drug trafficking organizations who are smuggling it into the United States,” said Special Agent Casey Rettig with the DEA in an interview with KCRA.

Know the dangers

One pill can leave people on life-support in the hospital and eventually result in death. One pill can cost lives. Law enforcement agencies and politicians have been trying to stop drug trafficking for years, but people find new innovations to smuggle drugs across borders and to sell them on the street for a profit.

It is imperative to educate the consumers of these products on the potential dangers of taking a pill sold on the streets. In reality, nobody knows what ingredients are in that pill or how it was made, regardless of whether it seems authentic or not. Drug dealers are famous for lacing pills with unknown substances and the consumers of these drugs are the ones who are harmed. Just because a pill says “Norco” on it does not mean it is pure, unless it is prescribed by a physician and picked up by the pharmacy; otherwise the consumer is at risk of ingesting an unknown substance that can be lethal. Hopefully this tragic event in Sacramento can raise awareness to the public across the United States.

The Sovereign Health Group is a leading behavioral health treatment provider with locations across the United States that treat people with addiction, mental illness and co-occurring disorders. Sovereign Health uses cutting-edge, evidence-based therapies to treat people with opioid addiction and other abused substances. For more information, please call our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a senior staff writer at the Sovereign Health Group and enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting-edge world of medicine. She is a physician and author, who also teaches, practices medicine in the urgent care setting and contributes to medicine board education. She is also an outdoor and dog enthusiast. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at