Nationwide spike in fentanyl-related overdose deaths prompts concerns from DEA

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WISCONSIN (CBS 58) -- A nationwide spike in fentanyl-related mass overdose deaths is prompting a warning from the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The number of overdoses are coming in clusters now, and it all traces back to fentanyl, which is being added to illegal drugs and sold to non-suspecting buyers.

"I think what's most alarming in these occurrences is that they're all over the U.S.," said John McGarry, Assistant Special Agent in Charge, DEA Milwaukee District Office.

Mass overdose events are defined as three or more occurring close in time and location. Since the start of the year, mass overdoses have killed people in Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri, Texas and Washington D.C. The victims -- using cocaine, crack cocaine or methamphetamines -- didn't know they were laced with a lethal dose of fentanyl.

"I think the clusters are emerging more frequently with less time in between them because there is an increasing level of potency of fentanyl or fentanyl analogs," said McGarry.

The Head of the DEA says "fentanyl is killing Americans at an unprecedented rate" and it's vital that every law enforcement officer in every state be ready for it.

"It is a very tragic outcome that we are working diligently and endlessly to try to reduce in this organization and with our partners in Department of Justice and state and local agencies," said McGarry.

On Monday, two people overdosed in this Milwaukee house on North 21st Street. It is unclear so far whether fentanyl is what killed them. But, last year, fentanyl accounted for 79 percent of all drug overdose deaths in Milwaukee County.

"It is in every type of illegal drug that people are procuring on the streets or through illegal sources or illegitimate sources that contain fentanyl. I mean that's a truly disturbing thing when you consider it," said McGarry.

In addition this year, The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner is seeing a lot more fentanyl analogs, which have a different chemical makeup than fentanyl and can be even stronger.

The DEA has seized more than 2,000 pounds of fentanyl and a million fake pills in the last three months. If you have any more questions, more information can be found here about fentanyl, here about more on how "One Pill Can Kill" and here about narcotics (opioids).

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