Deaths linked to a highly potent synthetic opioid are on the rise in San Luis Obispo County.
Public Health officials say from May to October of this year, 10 people have died in the county from toxic levels of fentanyl, compared to at most two deaths per year since 2015.
The San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department calls it an "alarming increase."
The synthetic drug is said to be 100 times more potent than morphine and up to 50 times more potent than heroin.
It's used as a pain reliever in the health care industry for some patients but is also sold illegally in powder and other forms, including pills made to look like prescriptions.
Due to its strength, health officials say even a small amount can cause a person to stop breathing.
In San Luis Obispo County, health officials say toxicology reports from recent deaths show fentanyl "has been mixed both with opioids and with stimulants such as methamphetamine."
They say people who use stimulants may not be aware of the risks or signs associated with an opioid overdose and are also less likely to have medicine readily available to reverse the effects of an overdose.
"Our hearts go out to those who have lost loved ones to overdose," said Dr. Penny Borenstein, SLO Co. health officer, in a press release. "We want everyone to know: illicit fentanyl is here in San Luis Obispo County and it brings a high risk of overdose. Any drug you buy on the street may be contaminated with lethal levels of fentanyl."
Health officials say while the safest way to protect yourself is to refrain from using illegal drugs, they say the following tips will help lessen the risk of an overdose:
· Get naloxone
· Consider testing for fentanyl
· Know the signs of overdose and be ready to call 911
· Connect with treatment
To learn more about support recovery and other treatment programs offered by the San Luis Obispo County Drug & Alcohol Services team, click here or call.
For more information on fentanyl, click here.