On Friday, two more deaths were reported from fentanyl pills disguised as Norco painkillers, bringing the total death rate to nine. 36 overdoses total have been reported in Sacramento County.
The DEA issued a public safety alert, warning everyone of the dangers of taking non-prescription drugs.
Dr. Olivia Kasirye with the health department said the poison control center reported five incidents within 24 hours last Thursday. Since that first call, the numbers of deaths and overdoses have just gone up. Victims range from 18 to 59-years-old, both men and women.
"It's very worrisome because a lot of people were very unsuspecting. Thought they were purchasing Norco or getting Norco from friends and relatives," Kasirye said.
Kasirye added that after taking the pills, people reported feeling dizzy, collapsing, becoming unconscious and some even having difficulty breathing or going into cardiac arrests.
Those Norco pills are usually used as painkillers. They can be bought on the streets by those looking for a high, but Dr. Kasirye said that's not always the case.
"There are some who are taking it to get high. But a lot of people are taking it because they have one pain or another," Kasirye said. "In some instances, some individuals did have prescriptions but they ran out of their medication so they borrowed from relatives or friends or just bought it off the street."
But those pills turned out to be full of fentanyl, considered 25 to 50 times more potent than heroin and 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Officials aren't sure how they're being disguised as Norco painkillers.
"This is the first time they’ve seen fentanyl in pill form, explained Dr Kasirye. "Usually, when it's given by prescription, it's in a patch."
Fentanyl can be lethal, even at low levels. And since the people who are taking these fake Norco pills think they're taking painkillers, they're often alone.
"That's the concern. For some of the individuals who ended up dying, they're by themselves," said Dr. Kasirye. "By the time someone discovered, it was too late."
As the DEA continues to investigate where these pills came from, the Sacramento County Public Health Department said things are finally starting to slow down.
"The number of cases reported to us has come down over time so our hope is people are getting the message and realizing these pills are not safe," Dr. Kasirye said.
Public Health officials advise people not to take prescription-type pills that are not prescribed by and obtained from one's own physician and/or pharmacy. Anyone who comes across pills they think may be actually fentanyl are asked to contact law enforcement and turn them in.