I-TEAM: Rainbow fentanyl is in Augusta, investigators say
AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - It is a worst-case scenario. Drug dealers have found a cheap way to get people high. The problem? It’s not only more affordable, but it’s also even more lethal than heroin, cocaine, and meth.
We’re talking about fentanyl. And, if you’ve been hearing about rainbow fentanyl, the deadly substance now in an array of enticing colors? Well, investigators tell the ITEAM, it’s already here. In powders and in pills… in pinks and blues and greens and here, in Augusta.
We’ve obtained pictures of the rainbow pills the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office seized in a bust in October.
The ITEAM found fentanyl is everywhere in Augusta and it’s killing in record numbers.
We mapped the deaths down to the street level since 2020 in Richmond County, to see if we are seeing any hot spots and what we found is nearly every community is a hot spot already. (Address markers identify the street where the death occurred, but not the exact address location to protect the identity of overdose victims.)
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” says Lt. Joel Danko with the Narcotics Division at the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.
It’s unsettling to hear even investigators taken aback by the sheer magnitude of the cheap and highly lethal drug, fentanyl, taking over the drug scene in Augusta.
They are finding it mixed in everything: heroin, cocaine, meth, and even pills made to look like pharmaceutical drugs like oxycodone, and Xanax sold on the black market.
At this point in Augusta, Danko says, they’re finding traces of fentanyl in just about every drug they pick up on the street.
“All of the heroin we picked up over the last month, we tested it first for fentanyl before we tested it for heroin. It all tested positive for fentanyl,” he said. “It’s already out there, it’s already inundated with all the drugs now. That’s why it’s so dangerous. We might have made a fentanyl-heroin mix, but we didn’t have any just heroin…The people we saw die with heroin, this is just going to be off the charts with how many people it’s going to affect.”
And it’s already started.
One chart from the Richmond County Department of Public Health shows in 2018, opioids, other than fentanyl, were by far the number one lethal drug in Richmond County and the state.
But by 2020, fentanyl made huge deadly gains across the state, and especially here in Augusta.
And since 2020, 132 people have overdosed and died with fentanyl in their system in Richmond County alone and another 76 likely cases are still pending.
Toxicology reports from the Coroner’s office show many dying with a mix of fentanyl-laced with other drugs.
“The lethal dose for a human would be two milligrams. So, you never know what you’re going to get. It could be a small dose, it could be a lethal dose… If you compare it to heroin, a lethal dose of heroin is 30 milligrams.”
Two lethal milligrams of fentanyl are the equivalent of 10-15 grains of table salt.
The DEA says it is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.
As Danko explains, fentanyl is a man-made opioid, coming across the U.S. border. And consider this, you’re trusting drug dealers to play lab chemist and mix the fentanyl with other drugs and keep it below two milligrams to not be fatal.
“If they buy a kilo of fentanyl for $60,000. They could potentially make millions off that kilo by cutting it, using it, making it into the pressed pills,” said Danko.
The DEA recently updated their warning on rainbow fentanyl from 18 states to now seizures reported in 26.
“These are pressed to look like the oxycodone, and this is the rainbow-colored fentanyl but it’s in the pressed pills,” he said.
Since the start of this year, the fentanyl busts have been piling up.
“In January we made a case off of Wrightsboro Road, yielded 1.5 kilos of raw fentanyl that was being pressed into pills,” said Danko.
That’s enough fentanyl to make thousands of pills.
In April another 1,508 fentanyl pills were seized according to an incident report. In May, more than 5,000 fentanyl pills.
Investigators say those pills specifically had ties to a cartel out of Mexico pressed to look like oxycodone and oxycontin.
In August, 81 grams of pressed pills and another 107 grams of meth mixed with fentanyl were seized. Deputies say on Winston way, they found more than 1,100 fentanyl pills in October.
“I worry about what my kids are going to see down the road and what they’re exposed to also. Enforcement is only part of it. I think this opioid task force and getting other community members and groups involved can help us fight the battle on multiple fronts we can educate people and get people the help they need,” he said.
This is a problem of economics we haven’t dealt with in past ‘wars on drugs’ because cocaine, heroin, etc…. aren’t necessarily cheap for drug dealers to get.
Fentanyl is because it packs such a punch with such a tiny drop.
So, they can make millions off of a kilo. So they’re putting it in everything they sell because dealers are trying to create customers.
In 2020 the sheriff’s office used 36 doses of Narcan to save lives, and by Oct. 2022, they’ve already given out 90 doses. So nearly tripled and the year isn’t even over.
Copyright 2022 WRDW/WAGT. All rights reserved.