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Rise in fentanyl-related deaths prompts county health alert
Colored fentanyl, which can resemble sidewalk chalk, has been found in almost every county in the region. The colorful, counterfeit prescription pills resembling candy is presenting the risk of accidental exposure to youth (Photo contributed).

The Stanislaus County District Attorney’s office issued a health alert on Monday, citing an increase in suspected fentanyl-related overdoses.

“In the last several weeks, Stanislaus County has suffered an unprecedented increase in drug-related overdose deaths,” the DA’s office said in a statement. “This upward trend in deaths isn’t showing any signs of slowing.”

Fentanyl, an opioid narcotic, is a prescription drug given to cancer and other patients suffering from extreme pain. The drug can be absorbed through the skin — it has no taste or odor — and is believed to be 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin. It is often is added to other illegal drugs without the user knowing; it’s been found in heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, Oxycodone, Norco, and Xanax.

“It’s an incredibly dangerous narcotic,” said Stanislaus County Sheriff Jeff Dirkse. “And it’s frightening to think about the person who goes out and decides, for the first time, to take an illegal substance … and has no idea that what they’re taking is laced with fentanyl. And it results in their death.”

According to statistics provided by Dirkse, the Stanislaus County Coroner’s office has confirmed 82 fentanyl-related drug overdoses since Jan. 1. The total number of overdoses, which includes other types of opioids and other drugs, is currently at 133 deaths.

Dirkse pointed out that toxicology results are pending for more recent death investigations, and that based on initial information gathered during recent investigations, the likelihood of some of these being ruled drug-related is highly likely. 

“In 2021 we seized 10 pounds of fentanyl,” said Dirkse. “If it was pure fentanyl, and it probably wasn’t 100 percent pure, but I was told that if it was pure fentanyl, it was enough to kill every person in the state of California.”

According to the county, it is anticipated that the number of drug-related overdose deaths will eclipse 200 by the end of the year.

“There is no such thing as a safe street drug,” the county said in a statement released this week. “So many lives have been lost this past year, please take the time to learn about opioid addiction, the dangerously potent drug fentanyl, overdose, and the steps you can take to save a life.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, seek help now. Here are a few signs of fentanyl overdose: 

·         Discolored skin: blueish-purple for people with light skin and grayish for people with darker skin.

·         Snoring, gasping or gurgling sounds, also known as the “death rattle.”

·         Extreme muscle rigidity to the point of seizures.

·         Foaming at the mouth.

·         Bleeding from nose and mouth.

·         A weak, barely detectable pulse.

For more information, call 888-376-6246 or visit