Medical Professionals, Law Enforcement Seeing Dangerous Counterfeit Opioids
SCOTTSBLUFF, Neb. – A trend in opioid use that has developed over the past couple of weeks has local medical professionals and law enforcement officials expressing concerns over public safety.
Scotts Bluff County Sheriff Mark Overman said the Western Nebraska Intelligence & Narcotics Group (W.I.N.G.) has received information of a number of incidents that can be attributed to counterfeit prescription opioid pills, such as hydrocodone or oxycodone. Intelligence obtained by W.I.N.G. indicates the presence of the counterfeit pills has increased substantially in the area.
“If you would compare it to a legitimate hydrocodone pill that you get in a prescription, it looks the same,” Overman said. “But they are counterfeit. They contain fentanyl.”
Regional West Emergency Department Medical Director Troy Dean, MD, FACEP, FAAEM, said the ER has seen an increase recently in the number of individuals being treated for complications associated primarily with the use of the pills suspected to be contaminated with fentanyl.
“We’ve seen a number of opioid cases that require intervention to reverse the effects of the opioids,” Dr. Dean said. “Those effects can include a significant change in mental status and respiratory depression to where you’re no longer breathing, which can lead to death.
“Fentanyl is a much stronger opioid than the oxycodone that people are anticipating getting. It is 100 times more potent than morphine and emerging fentanyl analogs such as carfentanil are estimated to be 10,000 times more potent than morphine.”
Intelligence indicates the product is manufactured overseas and has been smuggled into the U.S. for years, and Overman said it was only a matter of time until the drugs arrived in the Nebraska panhandle.
“It comes from the drug trafficking organizations,” Overman said. “There’s a lot of it coming. We’ve been really fortunate here that it hasn’t arrived until recently, and now it is here.”
Dr. Dean said quickly seeking medical attention for any individual who may have taken the counterfeit pills is critical.
“Calling 911 immediately can save lives,” he said. “If you find someone with a change in their mental status or their ability to breathe, it’s very important to get medical help and attention to prevent unintentional loss of life.”
Overman stressed the importance of seeking medical attention, without fear of legal implications, in any situation where opioid use has resulted in complications. Law enforcement’s focus is on stopping the influx of the counterfeit pills at its root, not on punishing individuals needing medical care.
“This, for us, is a public health emergency,” he said.
Regional West Health Services in Scottsbluff, Neb., is the parent company of Regional West Medical Center, a 188-bed regional referral center and the only Level II Trauma Center in Nebraska west of Kearney. As the region’s only tertiary referral medical center, Regional West offers care that spans more than 32 medical specialties provided by over 28 physician clinics. With nearly 300 in-network providers and approximately 2,000 staff members, Regional West provides comprehensive and innovative health care services for the people of western Nebraska and the neighboring states of Colorado, South Dakota, and Wyoming.