KOOTENAI COUNTY, Idaho — Authorities are warning the public about a "sharp increase" in fatal overdoses connected to the synthetic narcotic fentanyl in Kootenai County.
Five overdose deaths involving counterfeit prescription pills and other illicit narcotics suspected to be laced with fentanyl have been reported in Kootenai County over the last eight days, according to a press release sent on Friday by the Idaho State Police (ISP). The deaths involve four men and one woman ranging in age from 15 to 60 years old, and they appear to be accidental and unrelated, police said.
Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, and up to 50 times more potent than heroin. Doses as small as two milligrams, the size of two grains of salt, are fatal for most people. Counterfeit prescription pills look exactly like legitimate pills and the amount of fentanyl can vary from each pill, even those in the same batch.
Nearly 90,000 people died as a result from of drug overdoses in the United States from Nov. 1, 2019 though Oct. 31, 2020, the largest number of drug-related deaths in a single year, and more than 74% of those deaths involved an opioid, according to ISP. Overdose deaths involving a synthetic opioid rose 54.7% and appear to be the primary driver of the uptick in deaths.
In Kootenai County, overdose deaths rose by 37% in 2020. There were 24 deaths reported in 2019 compared to 33 in 2020, ISP said.
Washington state health officials have also said preliminary data shows more people died of drug overdoses in 2020 in the state than any year in at least the past decade. The Seattle Times reports fatal drug overdoses in Washington state increased by more than 30% in 2020 compared to 2019.
The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) said many of the overdoses were caused by fentanyl, adding that people should assume any drug not from a pharmacy could have fentanyl in it.
While police investigate the source of counterfeit pills in Kootenai County, they are asking parents to talk to their children about the dangers that they pose. Anyone with information about who is supplying counterfeit prescription pills is urged to contact ISP at the Idaho Drug Tip Hotline 1-800-524-7277 or the Coeur d’Alene Police Department at 208-769-2320.