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Health officials: Fentanyl has become a deadly trend in Washoe County


Fentanyl-related deaths in Washoe County have increased six-fold over the past five years—and more than doubled from 2019 to 2020—leading state and local officials to collaborate on a new awareness campaign in the community. In 2020, Washoe County reported 55 fentanyl-related deaths and noted that number is preliminary and may increase.

Washoe County said the statistics are startling.

“Five years ago, fentanyl-related deaths were nearly unheard of locally,” officials said in a media  statement. “While the East Coast saw a surge of deaths due to fentanyl and its analogs, Washoe County had very few cases locally and regionally. However, fentanyl abuse has made an alarming incursion into our community in recent years.”

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid drug used for pain relief that is similar to morphine, but 50 to 100 times more potent, according to the National Institutes for Health. This potency has also led to the diversion of fentanyl for abuse. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency said it is often added to heroin to increase its potency or disguised as heroin.

“[It] may be in powder or crystalline drugs, alone, or mixed with heroin or methamphetamine; or may even be sold in pressed pills, masquerading as less potent opioids, like oxycodone,” said Washoe County Medical Examiner Dr. Laura Knight.

Many users may not realize the drugs they are purchasing include fentanyl, which often results in overdose deaths, the DEA notes.

Officials said someone suffering from a fentanyl overdose may exhibit the following signs:

  • A person’s lips immediately turning blue.
  • Gurgling sounds with breathing.
  • An uncommon onset of snoring or more pronounced than usual.
  • Foaming at the mouth or nose.
  • Confusion or strange behavior before the person becomes unresponsive.

Opioid overdose can be rapidly reversed with naloxone, often known by its brand name Narcan. In 2015, Nevada lawmakers improved access to naloxone and passed civil and professional liability protections for individuals prescribing, dispensing or administering the drug. 

The law also includes a Good Samaritan provision to prevent punitive action against someone who administers naloxone or calls 911 to assist someone experiencing an opioid overdose.

“Knowing how naloxone works, carrying it, and telling everyone you know about it, could save lives,” the county said in the statement.

For more information on naloxone training and distribution sites, head to www.Nvopioidresponse.org. For information on the Good Samaritan Law, head to https://www.nvopioidresponse.org/good-samaritan-law/

Source: Washoe County

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