The Houston Forensic Science Center released an alert Tuesday noting that its analysts have found fentanyl, a dangerous painkiller, in various counterfeit pharmaceutical pills and powders ten times this year, plunging Houston into what the Drug Enforcement Administration is calling a "fentanyl crisis."
According to the DEA, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that can be 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Manufacturers overseas, primarily in China, are lacing drugs such as Xanax and OxyCodone with fentanyl, creating an extremely dangerous cocktail. The DEA says that just two milligrams of fentanyl can lead to an overdose.
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It's reportedly the same drug investigators believe killed pop icon Prince, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune — even though the drugs found in his home were labeled hydrocodone. The newspaper reports that, despite the fact that Prince only weighed 112 pounds at the time of his death, there was enough fentanyl in those pills to kill anyone, no matter his or her size.
The forensic science center says it has found fentanyl twice in powders and eight times in counterfeit pharmaceuticals this year.
Elsewhere around the country, health officials are dealing with mass overdoses. As the forensic science center notes, in just two months, Sacramento, California saw 52 overdoses and ten deaths due to counterfeit Norco pills laced with fentanyl in just two months this year, according to DEA data. In Pinellas County, Florida, another nine people died from fentanyl-laced counterfeit Xanax from January to March alone.
According to the DEA, even examining fentanyl in labs like the forensic science center is doing could be dangerous for analysts: Lethal doses can even be accidentally inhaled or absorbed through skin. The center says it is taking extra precautions as it continues to keep an eye on these dangerous counterfeit drugs.