Four overdose deaths in Montana have been directly traced to fentanyl disguised as less dangerous types of painkillers, law enforcement officials say.
Lewis and Clark County Sheriff/Coroner Leo Dutton said that between Jan. 17 and Jan. 24, three deaths in Billings and one in Helena were linked to black market fentanyl being sold as Oxycodone pills and opioid patches.
Apparently, fentanyl is being converted into pill form before being sold as the more well-known painkillers.
"Don't be buying Oxycodone or OxyContin from someone who is not a pharmacist," Dutton warned, adding that "fentanyl will kill you."
Cascade County Sheriff/Coroner Jesse Slaughter said fentanyl could affect more than just the users. Fentanyl is so potent that just touching or breathing the substance can be dangerous.
"Family members, children can be affected," Slaughter said. "It's a huge concern for public safety and our detention officers and law enforcement out with the public."
Cascade County had four opioid-related overdoses in January, according to Slaughter. While fentanyl has not yet been confirmed in any of the cases, the chance it could move into the black market is concerning.
"Now that it's in pill form there's no way to tell what we're dealing with, and that's very dangerous," Slaughter said.
Dutton said anyone with suspicious opioids should get rid of them.
"For anyone with a fear of getting charged for possession of dangerous drugs, there's a drop-off box, which is anonymous," Dutton said. "Just put it in and get rid of it."
The city and county have a pill drop-box at the Lewis and Clark County Detention Center. On Monday, the drop-box will be moved to the Helena Police Department's new office at 406 Fuller Ave.
"We are well aware people could die in fear of getting help," Slaughter said. "For people in contact [with opioids] get them turned over to law enforcement as soon as possible."