Nine people in the Helena area have overdosed on fentanyl-laced heroin in the in the last 48 hours, Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton said Wednesday.
Dutton said the St. Peter's Health emergency room has successfully revived all nine overdose patients. While none of them died, at least one was in serious condition.
"An alarming situation is occurring in our community," Dutton said. "St. Peter's Hospital and my office are very concerned with an alarming trend occurring now."
According to Lt. Randy Ranalli, the Helena Police Department has supplied Narcan to four individuals who overdosed in the last two days. Ranalli said it is possible that fentanyl was involved in these cases, but there is no toxicology confirmation.
Dutton said the drugs came over the southern United States border with Mexico. He said that through his participation in the Western States Sheriffs' Association, he has been warned by member states on the southern border about drug cartels marketing heroin laced with fentanyl.
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The drug can reportedly be sold as a blue pill with a poor binding agent that crumbles easily, Dutton said.
"We have seen an increase in life-threatening drug overdoses the last few days because of drugs believed to be laced with fentanyl," said Dr. Tiffany Kniepkamp, emergency room physician at St. Peter's. "This is our community, and we urge anyone who uses or has a loved one who uses to exercise extreme caution. Have Narcan and know how to use it, and please do not hesitate to seek emergency care if needed."
Dutton said the sheriff's office typically doesn't hear about overdoses, but this situation is unprecedented.
The Lewis and Clark County Sheriff's Office is involved in the Angel Program, which is sponsored by Gov. Greg Gianforte's foundation. Through the program, a drug user can go to law enforcement and request treatment. That individual will then be transported to a treatment facility, and criminal charges will not be filed. Dutton said this is provided at no cost to the individual.
Dutton said the Missouri River Drug Task Force currently has several investigations underway, but this new product is complicating the public safety aspect of their work. When asked if the HPD was encountering more fentanyl-laced heroin on the streets or just more heroin in general, Ranalli said it is probably a combination of both.
"Please, please, we are asking as community leaders to warn your family members of this dangerous situation," Dutton said. "We offer laud to St. Peter's Emergency Room staff for delivering the life saving care. Please get yourself or a loved on into treatment for addiction."