The Gunnison Police Department has launched an investigation into the circulation of highly lethal fentanyl pills being sold as oxycodone by third party individuals.
According to police captain Chris Wilson, the 30 milligram (mg) fentanyl pills are identical to the round, light blue colored oxycodone pills with an uppercase “M” stamped on the back.
“It’s definitely not being made by an amateur,” Wilson said.
Wilson added that they currently have leads in the case.
The Gunnison Police Department was made aware of the circulation at the beginning of March. Due to the ongoing investigation, Wilson was not able to specify the details that led to their discovery, however, explained that an “incident transpired and we became involved after it became a medical issue.”
The official announcement to the community was made on March 5 on the Gunnison Police Department social media page.
Wilson emphasized the lethal nature of fentanyl — 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) — and discouraged individuals from purchasing or receiving a drug by a third party source. He said prescription opioids are safest when prescribed by a doctor through a pharmacist.
Oxycodone and some fentanyl are prescription opioid drugs, used most commonly in the medical field to relieve pain. Although according to NIDA, the medicines can be prescribed for problems such as cough or diarrhea.
NIDA states that the drugs are “highly addictive” and that “overdoses and death are common.” In 2018, the institute’s data showed that 128 people in the United States die every day of an opioid overdose.
According to the Gunnison County Coroner report, 93 percent of Gunnison County overdose deaths since 2015 have been related to opioids.
“Prevalence of high impact sports, coupled with the community risk factors … results in a lot of physical and emotional pain for (Gunnison County) residents, and key informant interviews reveal that self-medication (via substances) to help cope with this pain is not uncommon,” Kyle Tibbett, adult prevention specialist for Gunnison County Health and Human Services wrote in an email to the Times.
Tibbett cited some of the community risk factors as being based in a seasonal economy, identifying as tourist destination, being in a transient community and other elements regarding culture and necessities.
Wilson isn’t sure exactly how prevalent the drug’s use is in Gunnison. In the past, they’ve been tipped off to incidents of opioid use and “hopefully give us names.” But the overall abuse in Gunnison is hard to pin down.
“A lot of it is hidden,” Wilson said. “Really the only times it's not is when we get involved or from a medical call if their friend or loved one is going through an overdose.”
The medicine Narcan, a nasal spray that contains opioid-blocking naloxone, is utilized to treat overdoses by stopping the effects. Wilson said the police department has used the drug in cases where it was needed, but not in a prevalent pattern.
The local City Market pharmacy is also offering free bottles of Narcan to those who request it, which is funded by the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program planning grant, which was given to the Gunnison County Consortium a few months ago. The pharmacy will have the drug until May 30 of this year before the grant expires.
(Roberta Marquette can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Prescription opioids such as oxycodone and fentanyl are highly addictive due to the amount of dopamine they are able to release by blocking pain. Misuse of opioid medications can occur when taking a higher dose of what was prescribed, using someone else’s prescription medications and other factors. Individuals who become addicted to pain medications often suffer severe withdrawal symptoms when use stops, which is part of the reason it is difficult to go off the drugs. Drugs such as these should only be prescribed by a doctor.
A highly addictive opioid used to treat mild to severe pain.
Brand names: OxyContin, Percocet and Roxicodone.
Forms: Some misuse patterns of not taking the drug as it was intended include crushing the pill up or opening the capsule, snorted through the nostrils, dissolved in water and injected into a vein.
A synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
Brand names: Actiq, Duragesic and Sublimaze.
Forms: For medical purposes, the drug can be taken as lozenges, a shot, or a patch. When it is illegally made, fentanyl comes as a powder, pills, used in eye droppers or nasal sprays, or dropped onto blotter paper.
(Info from the National Institute on Drug Abuse)