One person died and 12 others were hospitalized in Chico, California, on Saturday, after overdosing on what appeared to be the synthetic opioid drug fentanyl.
Chico police, fire department, and ambulance officers responded to the scene after receiving a 911 call from a residence in the area. One man was pronounced dead at the scene of the incident and 12 others were transported to a nearby hospital.
“Every indication is that this mass overdose incident was caused from the ingestion of some form of fentanyl in combination with some other substance though that is yet to be confirmed,” said Chico police chief Mike O’Brien at a press conference on Saturday.
Police officers administered CPR and naloxone, a narcotic overdose treatment, on the scene, O’Brien said.
“It certainly would have been far worse without the response and dispensing of naloxone by Chico police officers,” he said, adding that officers began carrying naloxone last year.
Fentanyl and other drugs with similar chemical make-ups are man-made substances, and are 30 to 50 times more potent than non-synthetic heroin. Fentanyl is mixed with heroin, meth, and cocaine as a cheaper filler, and users often do not know whether the drugs they have bought have fentanyl in them.
Mass overdoses have become increasingly common, HuffPost reports, because a batch of heroin laced with fentanyl usually reaches multiple users.
“We’ll see waves of folks coming in and when we talk to EMS, they tell us the people came from the same two-block area where several others were found dead,” Zachary Dezman, an emergency room doctor at the University of Maryland Medical Center, told HuffPost.
In 2016, in a mass overdose in Huntington, West Virginia, 26 people overdosed on naloxone in the space of four hours.
In 2017, drug overdoses killed a record number of people in the US — more than 70,000. Between 1979 and 2016, 600,000 people died of drug overdoses. Fentanyl and fentanyl-like substances now kill more people in the US than any other drug. In 2017, some 25,000 people died of fentanyl overdoses.
Chico Fire Chief Steve Sandridge said at the Saturday press conference that it is unclear whether contaminated drugs from the same batch that caused the mass overdose are still on the street.
“That is part of our investigation,” Sandridge said.
The mother of one of the victims in Chico on Saturday told CBS affiliate Action News Now on Saturday that she had received a call early that morning that her son was in the hospital, and learned when she got there that he had overdosed and was being treated.
“They’re dying. This doesn’t care who you are, doesn’t care what class you are,” the mother of one of the victims, who was not named, said on Saturday. “Doesn’t care who you are. It will kill you. Some of these kids are college students with bright futures ahead of them.”
The Chico Police and Fire Departments did not immediately respond to requests for comment.