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Painkiller overdose links four deaths

Feb 23, 2006 | Augusta Chronicle

Aiken County Coroner Tim Carlton couldn't help but notice the trend.

When the toxicology reports came back on Shawn Noe recently, it was the fourth time in just a few months that someone in Aiken County had died from overdosing on the popular painkiller fentanyl.

It set off some alarm bells, Mr. Carlton said, especially since he normally handles just six to 10 deaths caused by drug overdose a year, with no common fatal potion in all of them.

The coroner is at a loss to explain why fentanyl, which the Drug Enforcement Agency says is virtually "indistinguishable" from heroin in its effects on the user, is suddenly killing people in Aiken County.

"I don't know if it's easier to get, or if it's being used more widely for chronic pain," he said.

The recent string of deaths in Aiken County began with 43-year-old Aiken resident Donna Parker on Sept. 8.

Since then:

Mary Deel, 34, of Aiken, died Dec. 25;

Josie Douglas, 55, of Aiken, died Jan. 4;

And Shawn Noe, 40, of Warrenville, died Jan. 20.

Authorities said two of the overdose victims: Ms. Douglas and Ms. Parker likely obtained the drug illegally because they did not have a prescription.

Fentanyl is commonly prescribed in the form of an adhesive patch and is used for chronic pain. Mr. Carlton said it has a street value of about $100 per patch.

Not only does fentanyl have similar effects as heroin, it is taken virtually the same way when misused.

Mr. Carlton said he believes that the four people who overdosed on the drug scraped the fentanyl off the inside of the patch, heated it up and then injected or inhaled it.

Mr. Carlton said he can't recall any previous overdose deaths in Aiken County linked to fentanyl since he has been coroner.

Overdosing on the drug, he said, causes respiratory failure and then cardiac arrest.

Aiken County Sheriff's Investigator Charles Barranco said the department's narcotics division hasn't found fentanyl to be a widespread problem.

But with the recent deaths, he said, narcotics investigators are now really "looking for it."

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