YAKIMA COUNTY, Wash.- It's a trend that's killing many people here in our county: Fentanyl.
"It's becoming more and more of an issue, and we need to be concerned about it," said Provost and Chief Academic Officer at Pacific Northwest University (PNWU) Ed Bilsky.
Fentanyl is a powerful opioid that is used during surgeries or prescribed for chronic pain.
Why is this drug becoming so well known? Bilsky says it's also becoming the drug cartel's new best friend when mixing it with their product.
"The illicit Fentanyls are very easy to manufacture, very cheap to produce, and they are very easy to transport across country lines. The drug dealer is not doing anything around quality control, so from batch to batch there's high variability, and you are unlucky to get a batch that contains a lot of Fentanyl," said Bilsky.
Numbers from the Yakima County Coroner's Office reveal this product is cycling right here in our area. In 2016, there were two overdose deaths in which Fentanyl was detected in their system. In 2017, that number spiked to 14, a 600 percent increase.
This year we've had a total of 11 Fentanyl related deaths and the coroner, Jack Hawkins, says he's still waiting on the results for seven more cases.
"People don't realize when they are taking these drugs, the methamphetamine or Heroin that it's also laced or mixed with Fentanyl," said Hawkins.
A different story to the north, Kittitas County Coroner reports there were zero cases of Fentanyl deaths during those years.
Health experts have It's also been found Fentanyl in Xanax pills, MDMA, and other street drugs.
Health experts say Fentanyl is a drug that 100 times more powerful than traditional opioids. They say even a tiny amount of Fentanyl laced within someone’s drug of choice can have them end up in a body bag.
Comparing overdose death rates with other counties, our numbers aren't the highest, but Bilsky says we are jumping at alarming rates.
"If you look at just our ranking, we are not at the top. But in terms of a percent increase from year to year, it's at one of the highest rates in the United States," said Bilsky.
Bilsky says the health field is trying to combat this trend by creating Fentanyl test strips to detect it in market drugs, but he says addicts seeking treatment is the main goal.