APD suspects Fentanyl as cause in recent overdose deaths

Austin Police say three people died last week from overdosing on, what homicide investigators believe to be, a powerful drug used to treat pain. It's called Fentanyl. According to the DEA, it's 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin.

On Friday morning, paramedics were called to Chicon Street in East Austin for an overdose. It was too late. The woman in her 30's died.

Hours later, Austin police released a warning about a series of overdose deaths. Homicide detectives are working to confirm exact drugs involved. Potent pain killer Fentanyl is believed to be linked in three cases.

"It will slow your breathing down. It will slow down your cardiovascular system. People will go into cardiac arrest or respiratory arrest,” said Kim Kjome, MD. "If they're not found by someone they could stop breathing and die."

Seton Shoal Creek Hospital Psychiatrist Kim Kjome councils those who end up in the hospital after an overdose. She says Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate used by doctors during surgery or prescribed for relief of extreme pain. It is made in factories and that's where drug dealers are getting their hands on it.

"Drug cartels, usually from Mexico, will buy it in China and release it into the United States and often times when it's released in the U.S. it's in with other drugs,” Kjome said.
She says Fentanyl in mostly the heroin supply. It can be in cocaine or in pills disguised as hydrocodone or oxycodone.

According to the Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office, in 2015 Fentanyl was detected in 11 overdose related deaths. That included a 19-year-old UT student. So far this year, two deaths have been linked to Fentanyl with a possible third case that is almost finalized.

Kjome says patients likely don't know what they've taken until it's too late. Of course, she only talks to the ones who survive.

"The way people will tell me after the fact is I was using something and I woke up in the ICU, usually how they are found by someone is their saving grace,” said Kjome.

According to the M.E.'s office it will take weeks to confirm the presence of fentanyl in the most recent overdose deaths.

Police, however, do have test kits and can test drugs found with the victim instantly. Officers will be looking to keep a record of those results to track trends and get on top of them faster.