7th person dies as wave of fentanyl overdoses strikes Sacramento County

Posted at 7:05 AM, Mar 31, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-31 07:05:40-04

SACRAMENTO COUNTY — A seventh person has died of a fentanyl overdose in Sacramento County as the CDC warns of a nationwide opiate epidemic.

Family confirmed that Jerome Butler, who was in a coma with liver and kidney failure after taking a fentanyl pill, was taken off life support on Wednesday afternoon, according to KTXL.

Natasha Butler, his mother, says it started on Friday when her son purchased what he thought was Norco from someone he trusted, not knowing it was actually fentanyl, a powerful opiate used to treat pain in terminal cancer patients.

Butler was found unresponsive on Saturday.

Jerome Butler is among more than two dozen overdoses in Sacramento County in the last week.

Both the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department and the Drug Enforcement Agency are investigating where the fentanyl pills came from.

The synthetic drug is up to 50 times more powerful than heroin, the CDC warns. Fentanyl is up to 100 times more potent than morphine, a commonly-administered pain medication in hospitals.

‘The scope of the problem’

The United States has seen an uptick in prescription drug abuse in recent years.

Drug overdose deaths in the United States hit a record-high in 2014, according to the CDC. Seventy-eight Americans die each day from an opioid overdose.

“The public doesn’t fully appreciate the scope of the problem,” President Barack Obama said Tuesday at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta.

The Obama administration announced a series of initiatives on Tuesday in order to expand addiction treatment.

“Addictions may be different for different people,” he said . “What we do know is there are steps that can be taken to get through addiction and get to the other side, and that is under-resourced.”

Asking for help

Ohio state officials asked the government for help last September after fentanyl-related deaths shot up 500 percent, from 84 in 2013 to 502 in 2014, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

After several weeks in the state, CDC investigators identified eight counties for interventions. The users in those counties are predominantly white males with a history of drug problems and possible mental health issues, the CDC found.

Among other measures, federal investigators worked with local officials to make sure that police, hospitals and other agencies in those counties had Naloxone, a drug that can stop a fentanyl overdose.

Over the counter

In the Northeast, another region ravaged by opiate addiction, CVS pharmacies decided in 2015 to make Naloxone an over-the-counter medication. Sold for $40 to $50, the medication is called a "miracle drug" for its ability to stop an overdose with just one spray in each nostril.

Starting in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, Naloxone is now for sale in some 14 states.

CNN contributed to this report.