KCBD Investigates: New panels created to help test for fentanyl - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

KCBD Investigates: New panels created to help test for fentanyl in fatal overdoses

LUBBOCK COUNTY, TX (KCBD) -

The KCBD investigative team has a new perspective on the fentanyl investigation on the South Plains. 

Earlier this week, we learned that an accused dealer of the drug was instructed to call fentanyl by another name because people were dying.

"It's simple-minded advice, but if you get into fentanyl, your risk of death is very high," said Lubbock County Medical Examiner Dr. Sridhar Natarajan. 

Dr. Natarajan's office has reported five fentanyl-related deaths so far this year. 

"It has horrific consequences," Dr. Natarajan said.

He said their labs have had to create new panels in order to detect fentanyl in fatal overdose cases; that means a more comprehensive drug test that can identify, in this case, specific opioids.

"There are now fentanyl panels that will look to see whether it's pure fentanyl, or maybe something like methylfentanyl, alpha-methyl-fentanyl...so we can break it down, but if the person doesn't pass away it's not going to happen," Dr. Natarajan said.

That is because he said the drug tests given at hospitals for example, can be too broad to test for certain drugs.

Even a complete forensic analysis of the blood taken after a fatal overdose may not be enough.

"As these panels are created the chemists are also working to create other drugs that are not part of the panel to make it harder for detection," Dr. Natarajan said.

He described it as a game of cat and mouse.

"Even though we've been aware of fentanyl for decades it seems like it's coming back now with a vengeance with how it's being brought back into society," Dr. Natarajan said.

It is a drug intended to help those suffering from severe pain that is now being chewed, injected and snorted in deadly doses.

"It's much more potent than heroin, far more potent than morphine," Dr. Natarajan said.

"I doubt if most distributors or anybody else has any care for the value of life or concern. They may to the level they want to have repeat customers," Dr. Natarajan said.

According to Lubbock County Court documents, one of the accused fentanyl dealers interviewed with investigators following her arrest.

The documents state she told them she was instructed not to call the drug fentanyl because people were dying. 

Investigators also discovered photographs of a vehicle painted with a written warning.

The artist of the vandalism had claimed responsibility for one fatal overdose and wrote another death could be coming.

Nalaxone or Narcan, is an overdose reversal drug.

It has saved the lives of people right here on the South Plains who have overdosed from opioids like fentanyl.

The KCBD investigative team requested the number of times UMC EMS reportedly administered the drug.

According to UMC, it was administered 817 times in 2013, 579 times in 2014, 355 times in 2015 and 274 times so far this year.

We also requested the number of doses given in the emergency room.

They told us 64 doses were given in 2013, 71 in 2014, 73 in 2015 and 70 so far this year.

According to experts, micrograms determine the difference between a fentanyl high and a deadly dose.

"My biggest concern is that the level between life and death, it's a very narrow range," Dr. Natarajan said.

Copyright 2016 KCBD. All rights reserved.

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