FREDERICK, Md. — A billboard on a main highway tallies the number of residents in this mostly rural county who have overdosed on prescription painkillers, heroin and other illicit opioids this year: 96 overdoses, 15 of them fatal.
What the sign doesn’t say is that a large and growing number of those deaths are the result of fentanyl, a fast-acting drug that is 50 times stronger than heroin and can kill users within seconds. Cheap and easy to produce, it is used by drug dealers to intensify the effects of heroin and other illicit drugs, often without the users’ knowledge.
The presence of fentanyl in the illicit drug supply has put law enforcement officials and the medical community on high alert in more than a dozen states, accelerating the battle against opioids on all fronts.
States, counties and cities are responding to this latest crisis by doing more of what they already were doing: stockpiling the overdose reversal drug naloxone, funding more drug treatment, and ramping up police surveillance of drug trafficking. In addition, a handful of states are stiffening penalties for selling the lethal drug.