Amarillo law enforcement, much like many other agencies across the state and nation, is seeing a rise in narcotics, with the recent most predominant narcotic being the opioid fentanyl.
In one of many recent drug busts, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) seized more than 12 pounds of suspected fentanyl on Oct. 23, after a Texas Highway Patrol Trooper stopped a vehicle on Interstate 40 in Carson County.
In addition, on Oct. 21, the Amarillo Police Department Narcotics Unit executed a search warrant at an apartment in the 3000 block of Curtis Drive, where agents recovered approximately 1,900 fentanyl pills along with several other opioids, including about 114 grams of methadone, 1 ounce of black tar heroin and 2 ounces of methamphetamine. The 36-year-old suspect, identified as Aaron Bret Young, was arrested and booked into the Randall County jail on three counts of manufacture/delivery of a controlled substance more than 4 grams less than 200 grams. According to APD, this investigation is ongoing.
This bust came a little less than a month after the APD Narcotics Unit, with assistance from the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Amarillo Office, seized approximately 100,000 fentanyl pills, which had been disguised as M30 prescription pills, or oxycodone hydrochloride. From this seizure on Sept. 26, officials confiscated 24.4 pounds of the drug, equating to a street value of $1.5 million.
“This is something not just here in Amarillo; this is a rise that we are seeing across the nation. Our narcotics unit is working all these investigations in partnership with our federal partners in areas to conduct these investigations to help hold these individuals accountable, not only on state, but also federal charges,” said Carla Burr, Public Information Officer for APD.
From pain management to potent opioid abuse
According to the DEA, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. Pharmaceutical fentanyl was developed for pain management treatment of cancer patients, applied in a patch on the skin. Because of its powerful opioid properties, fentanyl is also diverted for abuse.
Oftentimes, fentanyl is added to heroin to increase its potency, or can be disguised as highly potent heroin. Due to this, many users believe that they are purchasing heroin and actually don’t know that they are purchasing fentanyl, which often results in overdose deaths. The DEA also states that clandestinely-produced fentanyl is primarily manufactured in Mexico.
“We just want to make people aware of what the risks are. Fentanyl can kill you the first time you encounter it, and you don’t even have to use it. Sometimes you can just touch it, and you can overdose. There is a certain amount that is even too potent to touch that can lead to death,” Burr said.
Overdose deaths accelerate during pandemic
According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), rates of overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone, which includes fentanyl and fentanyl analogs, increased more than 56% from 2019 to 2020. The number of overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids in 2020 was more than 18 times the number in 2013. More than 56,000 people died from overdoses involving synthetic opioids in 2020. The CDC states that the latest provisional drug overdose death counts through June 2021 suggest an acceleration of overdose deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic .
As reported by the CDC, in the state of Texas, there has been a 140% increase in synthetic opioid overdose deaths, including fentanyl, from 2019 to 2020, with 423 related deaths reported in the state of Texas in 2019 and 1,050 related deaths reported in 2020.
According to the CDC, more than 150 people die every day from overdoses related to synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
In a tweet made by the Texas Department of Public Safety on Oct. 18, since March 21, which was the beginning of Operation Lone Star, a campaign focusing on educating the public on ways to combat the fentanyl crisis, DPS has seized more than approximately 337 million lethal doses of fentanyl.
Candy disguise used to avoid law enforcement, not target kids
In addition to the potency of the drug, smugglers are now disguising it as candy to deter law enforcement.
“We are seeing now where smugglers and distributors are disguising the fentanyl as candy and putting it in candy bags. They are not doing this to try to attract children; they are more so doing this to hide it from law enforcement,” Burr said. “We do not believe that this is some tactic for these drugs to flood the streets targeting our kids. This is just their way of disguising the drug, and we want people to know what it looks like so that they are aware in case there is someone they know around these drugs at risk for an accidental overdose.”
Burr adds that the average individual will most likely never come in contact with the drug, but individuals in or surrounding the drug culture need to be aware of the added risks involving fentanyl. Burr states that those around individuals known for substance abuse could carry and learn the proper safety procedures to administer Naloxone, a medication that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, in the event of an emergency.
In the case of a suspected fentanyl overdose, it is advised to call emergency officials as soon as possible or call the poison control emergency hotline.
For individuals seeking help with substance abuse, please contact the Panhandle Behavior Health Alliance Local Crisis Hotline at (806) 359-6699 or their Toll-Free Crisis Hotline at (800) 692-4039 .