ST. GEORGE — Utah authorities have issued an alert about new trends in street drugs or so called “designer drugs,” saying the quantity and potency of these extremely dangerous, illicit drugs are on the rise.
“We are facing a situation right now where people, friends, family are dying in our state,” Keith Squires, commissioner of the Utah Department of Public Safety, said at a press conference held at the state crime lab in Salt Lake City Wednesday.
The upward trend reflects a growing public health issue, prompting the department’s “special hazard warning” to residents.
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Jay Henry, state crime lab director, said lab analysts have identified a single tablet that contains multiple compounds such as methamphetamine and Fentanyl, a lab-created synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. The pill also includes numerous hazardous compounds.
Public safety officials are warning the public that these “homemade” pills are deadly.
“This is kind of new and something we haven’t seen before,” said Tom Gorman, director of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, “and for some reason it is hitting Utah more than some of the other states.”
The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program provides assistance to law enforcement agencies operating in areas considered to be critical drug trafficking regions of the U.S.
“If you look at the Rocky Mountain states, it’s coming into Utah more than some of the others, which we didn’t expect,” Gorman said.
Multiple counties across Utah are assisted by the program including Washington County.
“Because these substances are substantially more potent than morphine and heroin, a small amount goes a long ways,” St. George Police Sgt. Jared Parry said.
Parry said he isn’t aware of any reports involving these substances in the St. George area, but explained that drugs sent to the state crime lab for identification take time to process.
Even handling an unidentified tablet can be dangerous because many of the “homemade” pills may not contain protective coatings, putting anyone who touches it at risk.
Officers are advised to use caution when handling Fentanyl and other similar compounds which can be absorbed through the skin, Trooper Jared Cornia with the Utah Highway Patrol said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdose deaths and opioid-involved deaths continue to increase in the United States. From 2000 to 2015 more than half a million people died from drug overdoses; 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.
Deputy State Epidemiologist Angela Dunn with the Utah Department of Health said in 2015 that 409 Utahns died from an opioid overdose.
“That’s from prescription and illegal opioids,” Dunn said, adding that means 34 Utahns died each month during 2015 from an opioid overdose. “That’s about 34 Utahns every month and 24 of those are from prescription opioids and 10 are from illicit opioids.”
Utahns are being warned now because many of these illegal drugs may look legitimate and are being sold in packaging that an unsuspecting buyer might think is from a pharmaceutical source.
“This isn’t a problem that “could” affect this state – these drugs are here now,” Susan Thomas, Utah Department of Public Safety interim public relations director, said.
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