Las Vegas police said Thursday they had seen an alarming spike in fentanyl overdose deaths in the valley and warned the public that the potent opioid is regularly “disguised” as a prescription drug.
Metropolitan Police Department captain John Pelletier said there were 74 fentanyl overdose deaths in Clark County in 2019. By 2020 the number rose to 219, which corresponds to an increase of 196 percent in one year.
“To put it in perspective, we had 31 deaths in August alone,” Pelletier said. “That’s one death a day from fentanyl.”
He explained the dismal numbers at a news conference surrounded by members of a newly created overdose response team made up of prosecutors, law enforcement, the Clark County coroner office, and others. The aim of the response team is to raise awareness of the danger of fentanyl while coordinating the arrests and prosecutions of those responsible for the proliferation of the deadly opioid in Silver State.
Pelletier said some victims likely took the drug on the assumption that it was a legal pharmacy-grade drug.
“If a drug is not prescribed for you by a pharmacist and doctor, don’t take it,” Pelletier said. “Fentanyl is often disguised as a prescription pill, but it can be up to 100 times more effective than morphine or heroin. People who die of fentanyl think they are taking a prescription pill, but they are taking a street or press pill that is made who knows where with who knows what. The bottom line is that they didn’t know what they were taking. “
The task force said the valley overdose deaths rose 30 percent overall, from 591 in 2019 to 768 in 2020.
Daniel Neill, assistant special agent for the Las Vegas office of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said the increased availability of fentanyl was due to a “shift in drug trafficking.”
“It’s cheaper. It’s easier to do,” he said. “So you see this shift, bring things in, lace it up with hydrocodone, you see it’s drugged with other drugs, and little by little it makes its way into the valley. “
According to Neill, the establishment of the task force is a valuable tool in combating the fentanyl trafficking, as diverse resources are pooled to identify both traffickers and trends. He said an equally important tool in combating fentanyl deaths is public education.
“We have to get the word out and we have to have these conversations,” Neill said, adding, “You can’t stop yourself.”
Contact Glenn Puit by email at [email protected] Follow @GlennatRJ on Twitter.