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Two powerful dangerous drugs mixed with heroin killing people in Lowcountry

(Source: AP Stock Graphic) (Source: AP Stock Graphic)

A Live 5 News investigation has revealed that two powerful, dangerous drugs being mixed with heroin are killing people right here in the Lowcountry.

One is Fentanyl, the drug that killed Prince. The other is Carfentanil, a drug used to tranquilize elephants.

According to the Charleston County coroner's office at least one person has overdosed on it.

Fentanyl is a powerful and addictive drug used to treat severe pain. When prescribed it's known as Actiq, Duragesic and Sublimaze.

Street names for Fentanyl or Fentanyl-laced heroin include China Girl, Jackpot, Murder 8 or T-N-T.

"The person who legitimately misuses, like deliberately misuses one of these prescription opioids and then goes down the path, it's Russian Roulette," U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Agent in charge Jason Sandoval said. 

Sandoval says it starts with someone who is prescribed painkillers, and then gets addicted to them.

He says if the addict can't get another prescription to relieve the pain, they turn to buying heroin from a street dealer. And that it's very possible the heroin is laced with Fentanyl.

That could result in an overdose or death.

"The Fentanyl is an easy substitute for heroin. In fact it's an easy substitute because it delivers such an intense high and euphoria," Sandoval said.

Sandoval says drug dealers like to mix heroin with Fentanyl because if they have a reputation of delivering a potent dose, users will flock to them.

He says if the user dies, even more addicts will buy from the dealer because they will just think the user who died couldn't handle the stuff.

Sandoval says there is another, even more powerful drug being mixed with heroin.

Carfentanil is not approved for use by people, but is used to tranquilize large animals, such as elephants.

"It's gonna cause a human to either overdose and without medical intervention they're gonna die," Sandoval said.

Sandoval says morphine -a painkiller- is one time more powerful than a prescription pill.

Heroin is two times more powerful than morphine.

Fentanyl is 100 times more powerful than morphine.

And Carfentanil is 10,000 times more powerful than morphine.

"It is absolutely an epidemic and it's an epidemic and it's an epidemic as that we as a community really need to confront," Sandoval said.

Since taking office in January, Dorchester County Coroner Paul Brouthers has  *already* had six overdose cases, one which confirmed Fentanyl was the cause of death.

Brouthers says none of the toxicology screens showed Carfentanil was involved in the other deaths.

"It's very alarming," Brouthers said.

Brouthers says even the most experienced heroin user doesn't know if it's laced with Fentanyl or Carfentanil.

"I think you're gambling with your life," Brouthers said.

We checked with coroners for all three counties. 

In 2016, Dorchester County had five deaths related to Fentanyl.

Charleston County had six deaths.

The number in Berkeley County is unknown.

The Charleston County coroner's Office also says toxicology testing showed Carfentanil played a role in one of those six deaths last year.

Until now, Berkeley County Coroner Bill Salisbury says his office hasn't tracked the type of drugs involved in an overdose.

The State Health Department started tracking drug deaths in January of 2014.

According to a statement from DHEC spokesman Robert Yanity, a coroner who does not identify the specific drug involved in an overdose is sent a letter asking them to provide that information to the state.

Salisbury told me he has not received any letters from DHEC but has had phone conversations with them.

Salisbury also says because of our story and other media requests he will start reporting the drugs that are involved in overdoses.

How are these deadly drugs making their way to the Lowcountry?

Sandoval says heroin laced with Fentanyl is shipped by Mexican cartels to the United States.

He says the cartels are making billions of dollars.

As part of our investigation, we also learned how easy it is to buy Carfentanil in its pure form on line. 

We Googled buy carfentanil and clicked on the link to find a website that sells the drug.

We were able to do a live chat with someone who offered to sell me the drug.

The cost would be $505 dollars for a gram.

Sandoval says it's difficult to close down the drug websites because there are so many of them and it's almost impossible to prove who is the seller on the other end.

He also says authorities have to choose whether to tackle the crisis locally and help the addicts or to go after the sources of the drugs.

"What bothers me the most about this issue is that we know these things are killing people and people continue to use them," Sandoval said.

So, what's the solution to this epidemic?

Sandoval says it's going take a message to the public and even more importantly the addicts.

"I'm gonna say one thing to you. DEA and our law enforcement partners do not regard you as a criminal. In fact, if somebody out there is in a moment of clarity and you hear my words, get help, talk to your family, talk to your loved ones. Get them to help you get into detox and rehab," Sandoval said.

So how do you know if your loved one is addicted to an opioid, or Fentanyl or Carfentanil?

Sandoval says a user will appear to be lethargic and withdraw from normal activities.

He says the person will abandon everything and everyone, including family, friends, school and their job.

We checked with the State Department of Health and Environmental Control for their Fentanyl numbers.

DHEC says in from 2014-2015 there were 198 Fentanyl related deaths.

We also checked with neighboring states to get their numbers.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services says in 2014 there were 159 Fentanyl related deaths.

In 2015 there were 210 deaths.

In 2016, the number rose dramatically to 364 deaths.

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, in 2014 there were 46 Fentanyl related deaths.

In 2015 that number rose to 81 deaths.

In response to the state's growing heroin/opioid epidemic, in the State House, A special committee has been formed to bring more solutions to the table on how to stop the problem and the deaths. 

There are about 10 different bills filed to address different aspects of the problem. 

One passed the house last week.

The bill would grant immunity to drug users from being prosecuted, if they call 911 for help for their friend who's overdosing. 

The bill is sponsored by a Greenville County representative who's son overdosed and died. 

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