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Fentanyl leading to more overdoses in Idaho

Counterfeit prescription pills often laced with fentanyl are becoming a common way people in Washington State consume opioids.
Courtesy of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Drug Enforcement Agency
Counterfeit prescription pills often laced with fentanyl are becoming a common way people now consume opioids.

In North Idaho drug overdoses have been increasing, including three overdoses at the end of May. Health officials say all three people survived thanks to intervention, but say the presence of a much more potent opioid, fentanyl, is putting more people at risk.

Statewide, 44% of overdose deaths in 2021 involved synthetic opioids compared to 21% in 2020 and 12% in 2019, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

The Interstate 90 corridor in north Idaho is also seeing similar impacts from synthetic opioids. Kelsey Orlando, the substance use disorder program manager at the Idaho Panhandle Health District, says many opioids and other drugs are contaminated with fentanyl, which has caused many, especially inexperienced, drug users, to overdose.

“We've seen that in our youth population that think that they're purchasing one thing, pills, people have gotten very savvy at creating fake pills, but they look really real, the consistency of them, they are hard, they are in the shapes of the colors of maybe what the pharmaceutical pill looks like,” she said.

She says the health district, in a partnership with regional emergency services, has created a community alert when there are three or more overdoses in a short period. She says that’s an indication there may be a tainted supply of drugs in the community. She says the end of May was the second time the new alert system has been used since December. It was launched in October.

She says the health district is providing nalaxone training to assist people who have overdosed. Naloxone is an overdose reversal drug, also known as Narcan. The drug is available at most pharmacies, even without a prescription.

Resources for how to connect with treatment and addiction services can be found on the Panhandle Health District’s website.