Dance Fever, Goodfellas, Jackpot, Murder 8, Tango and Cash.
The names, catchy though they may be, belie a deadly reality — and one authorities say is seeping deeper into New Mexico.
Fentanyl, by any name, is the powerful synthetic opioid that has deadly results when combined with or disguised as other drugs. And the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office says its presence in the area has spiked in recent months.
“It’s been on the West Coast, California, other more highly populated areas for the past few years, but it’s never been so prevalent here until recently,” Assistant District Attorney Russell Warren said in a phone interview Tuesday.
“It used to be heroin and meth,” he added. “Now I don’t see heroin as much, and a lot of the stuff I’m seeing is fentanyl. It’s almost like the drug users that were addicted to opioids switched to fentanyl because it’s more powerful or it’s just more available.”
The District Attorney’s Office has begun prosecuting three cases involving defendants found in possession of large amounts of fentanyl since March, according to a news release. They including a case involving a Rio Arriba County man accused of possessing 1,300 fentanyl pills; a 21-year-old Santa Fe man accused of possessing 250 grams of methamphetamine and 900 fentanyl pills; and an Abiquiú woman authorities say was found in a Santa Fe hotel room with 593 fentanyl pills, 21 grams of methamphetamine, a 9 mm handgun and a bank-style currency counter.
“It’s really scary the amount of people driving around in Santa Fe with trafficking levels of narcotics, especially fentanyl,” Warren said. “Just one of those pills could cause an overdose in a person that doesn’t have a tolerance to it.”
Typically used to treat patients with severe pain from cancer or surgery, fentanyl is similar to morphine but 50 to 100 times more potent, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Stronger, more addictive and cheaper to manufacture than other drugs, fentanyl has become increasingly popular throughout the state over the past year, health and law enforcement officials agree.
Methamphetamine and fentanyl are now the most likely substances involved in drug overdose deaths across the state, surpassing heroin and prescription opioids, Department of Health spokesman David Morgan wrote in an email Tuesday.
Health Department data shows that while methamphetamine deaths rose by 9 percent between December 2019 and October, fentanyl-related deaths increased 102 percent over the same period.
Warren, whose salary comes from federal funds for designated High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas, said the District Attorney’s Office has been sharing intelligence with federal authorities and asking local judges to hold suspected traffickers without bond in an attempt to get a handle on the problem.
“We’re aware of the problem and are taking concrete steps to try to solve [it],” Warren said. “We’re not trying to go after drug users or people addicted to drugs. But we are going to use every tool we have to prosecutor people that are drug trafficking in the First Judicial District.”
Twitter users last week shared information about where to obtain drug test strips being distributed by harm-reduction organizations after five people were suspected to have died from using cocaine laced with fentanyl in Atlanta.
Morgan said the Department of Health has been considering similar measures.
“There’s no question … distributing fentanyl test strips could be an effective step in the response to the increasing presence of fentanyl in New Mexico,” he wrote in an email, adding the agency is examining policies that could allow for distribution of the strips.
“Additionally the Hepatitis and Harm Reduction Program is educating participants who use substances on overdose prevention methods to reduce the likelihood of an overdose,” Morgan wrote. “[The department] recommends individuals not use alone, learn how to utilize rescue breathing and obtain naloxone from a pharmacy, public health office, or harm reduction program.”