DEA Marks First National Fentanyl Awareness Day as DC Area Tackles Fatal Overdoses

“[There's a] one-in-three chance that a pill you buy out in the black market is laced with fentanyl,” Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said. 

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The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration marked the first-ever National Fentanyl Awareness Day on Tuesday. Though the federal government estimates that 66% of all fatal overdoses in the country in 2021 involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl, statistics obtained by News4 show that in parts of the D.C. area, the figure was closer to 90%.

Now local officials, including in Montgomery County, Maryland, are trying to stop a tidal wave of opioid deaths. 

The pills in question are designed to look exactly like Percocet or other prescription painkillers.

However, Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy says the quick, shoddy way they’re mixed and pressed by drug traffickers means one pill from the same batch can cause mild sedation, while another can have enough fentanyl to cause a fatal overdose. 

“[There's a] one-in-three chance that a pill you buy out in the black market is laced with fentanyl,” McCarthy said. 

D.C., Maryland and Virginia have seen a steady rise in opioid overdoses. 

Montgomery County estimates 95% of its overdose deaths involve fentanyl. Forty-six people died in 2018, compared to 65 in 2019, 90 in 2020 and 109 last year.

As of April 19, 2022, there have already been 27 overdose deaths, all investigated by a task force that includes police and prosecutors.

McCarthy has also been speaking at county high schools, a number of which have lost students to fentanyl overdoses.

He tells students not to hesitate to call 911 immediately if a friend overdoses.

“We tell them, ‘Make the call. There will not be a criminal consequence to this,’ because we would rather save the life of a young person,” McCarthy said. 

First responders in our area, including many police departments, carry the drug naloxone, also known as Narcan, which can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

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