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One Dead, 12 Hospitalized Following Mass Overdose in California

Authorities believe fentanyl was behind the wave of ODs, which could have been worse had police not had naloxone

A reporter holds up an example of the amount of fentanyl that can be deadly after a news conference about deaths from fentanyl exposure, at DEA Headquarters in Arlington Va. Some large law enforcement agencies have recently abandoned the routine chemical field tests out of concern that officers could be exposed to opioids that can be absorbed through the skin or inhaled. Even a minute amount of the most potent drugs, such as fentanyl, can cause violent illness or deathOpioids Field Testing, Arlington, USA - 06 Jun 2017

A reporter holds up an example of the amount of fentanyl that can be deadly after a news conference about deaths from fentanyl exposure.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Authorities in Chico, California, are investigating a “mass casualty overdose,” likely from the drug fentanyl, that left one person dead and hospitalized 12 others over the weekend. Police responded to a 911 call at a residence on Saturday, January 12th at approximately 9 a.m., and dispensed six doses of the the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone while also administering CPR; no information has been released about the deceased.

“Every indication is that this mass overdose incident was caused from the ingestion of some form of fentanyl in combination with another substance,” said Chico Police Chief Mike O’Brien at a news conference on Sunday. “That is yet to be confirmed, but we do anticipate confirmation in the coming days.… The residence where this incident occurred is being treated as a hazmat site.”

Two police officers who responded to the scene became ill and were briefly hospitalized after being “potentially exposed” to the drug, according to Chico Fire Department Chief Steven Standridge. Local CBS affiliate Action News Now reports that, as of Sunday morning, three of the overdose victims have been released from Enloe Medical Center, while nine people remain hospitalized, including two patients in serious condition.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin, and is often imported on the black market from Mexico and China to be used as a filler in street narcotics. The drug has contributed to a rise in overdose deaths across the country, particularly on the East Coast and the Midwest. Fentanyl is engineered to be potent and fast acting, and even the smallest amount mixed with other, unregulated, illicit drugs can cause even the most opiate-tolerant users to overdose.

O’Brien said his agency hasn’t encountered many fentanyl-related incidents in the past, but since 2018, thanks to a grant from the local health department, police officers have been carrying naloxone.

“We were waiting, and have been waiting unfortunately, for this to happen in the sense that we knew fentanyl had been moving west,” O’Brien said. “It certainly would have been far worse without the response and dispensing of naloxone by Chico police officers.”


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