Hanging out on Boston Common, Sean Seith and self-described addict Bianca Telheiro hadn't heard about the warning from Boston Police — that there are pills on the street shaped and stamped to look just like Oxycodone, but are actually the far more potent fentanyl.
"There's overdoses in the shelters, on the street, in this Common," said Seith, who is homeless.
"My mom did a shot of it and she didn't know it was fentanyl," said Telheiro. "She thought it was dope and she died."
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Fentanyl is a purely synthetic opiod — medically intended for extreme pain. Dr. Sarah Wakeman heads the Substance Use Disorder Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital. She says it is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine or heroin, and increasingly cheaper to make.
"People can actually order the raw products from abroad, from China mainly — get those through the mail, through the postal service and press them into pills to make them look like more expensive pharmaceuticals and can charge a high price," Wakeman said.
If people think they're taking oxy and fentanyl hits their system, the effects can be devastating, according to Wakeman.
In 2015, there were 1,319 opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts. According to state data, fentanyl factored into more than half of those deaths. And Wakeman says what has been a life saver to so many addicts — the reversal drug Nalaxone or Narcan — is not as effective on fentanyl.
"Because it's so strong, we're hearing it's taking several doses of Narcan before the person can come out of the overdose," she said.
"We have to wait for the paramedics to come and with the traffic — everything like that — a lot of people don't make it," said Seith.
The pills are stamped A/215 and look like Oxycodone 30mg tablets. Boston Police are asking for help in tracking down the dealers. You can call the CrimeStoppers tipline anonymously at 800-494-TIPS.