Central Valley seeing increase in fentanyl-related overdose deaths

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- For $5 to $10 a pill, these bogus prescription painkillers are being sold by the thousands.

This year alone, 130,000 pills were taken off the streets by the High Impact Investigation Team locally. An analysis from a real pharmacist showed the pills were acetaminophen laced with fentanyl.

"Here's the problem: fentanyl is 50 times more powerful than heroin," said US Attorney of Eastern District California McGregor Scott. "It is 100 times more powerful than morphine, which means a very small amount will kill you."

Federal agents say manufacturing these drugs is often done in a garage by those with no training or advanced degrees in chemistry or science.

There's no regulating the quantities of ingredients in a pill or knowing what's inside it until you pop one in your mouth.

Dr. Patil Armenian is a local doctor who works in the emergency room and sees the problem firsthand.

"If they do wake up, which a lot of them don't do, they die," he said. "But if you do wake up, we sit down and we talk. A lot of them had no idea of the magnitude of what they've done. They weren't trying to hurt themselves. They weren't trying to leave this planet. They wanted to live."

The growing issue has prompted federal prosecutors to bring charges against more and more drug dealers who sell synthetic pills cut with poison.

"When we do our investigation, we're going all the way back, as far as we can go," says DEA Special Agent in Charge Daniel Comeaux. "We will put every last one of you in jail if you're responsible for causing one of these overdoses, causing one of these deaths."

Darnell Pearson is serving 30 years in prison for distributing fentanyl that killed two people in Fresno and Madera Counties. The buyers thought they were getting cocaine.

Local prosecutors say parents should talk to their teens about anything they take that isn't prescription authorized by a doctor and distributed through a pharmacy.

"I know how hard it is out there for you moms, to wander into a conversation with your kids about these things," says Madera County District Attorney Sally Moreno. "Either you think they are good kids and they are never going to get involved in this, or you know they are struggling and you don't want to stress your relationship further."

Special agents say this, summer the problem has been especially bad. With the pandemic, they aren't sure if teens and young adults are just bored or just looking for a good time.
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