Four deaths and a number of hospitalizations due to opioid overdose, specifically fentanyl, have been reported in the territory since last fall, and V.I. Police Commissioner Trevor Velinor said the police department is forming a partnership with other agencies, including a federal entity, to combat the sale and use of the drug.
Representatives from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and the V.I. Health Department joined Velinor at a news conference Tuesday defining the dangerous drug and how they will attempt to eradicate its illegal use. Velinor said all resources will be used to prevent the drugs from entering the Virgin Islands and hinted at federal funding.
“Not everyone is using them,” Velinor said, but the number of fentanyl deaths and the quantities found in the territory have impacted the community.
Answering a question, the commissioner said the drugs cannot be traced to the Limetree Refinery but added that some workers “may have brought their ills with them.”
“It can be laced and used with any illicit drugs,” Deputy Health Commissioner Renan Steele said.
“They’re drugs that kill,” or at least cause health problems to those who survive an overdose, he said. Fentanyl is 350 times more dangerous than heroin and even handling the drug is dangerous.
The Health Department has formed a team for dealing with substance abuse and mental disorders in the community. There are two-person teams on St. Thomas and St. Croix that will circulate in the communities.
DEA Agent-in-Charge Tracey Gardner, like VIPD, has been watching an increase locally and has confiscated several examples of the drug in various forms. She said although there are no official results back from the lab, the DEA believes fentanyl is being sold in the Virgin Islands in the form of blue pills and is sometimes trafficked as oxycontin. There has been one confirmed case of it mixed with heroin. She believes the drugs are coming through the mail and being sold on the streets.
“I believe a lot of the users of these drugs may not even know they are taking drugs which contain fentanyl, which further increases their risk of overdose and even death. So, basically taking these drugs is like playing Russian Roulette with their life,” she said.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but 50 to 100 times more potent. It is used to treat extreme pain and is known as Actiq, Duragisic and Sublimaze in its prescription form. On the street, it is known as Apache, China Girl, China White, Dance Fever, Friend, Goodfellas, Jackpot, Murder 8 and Tango & Cash. Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are now the most common drugs responsible for drug overdose deaths in the United States, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Gardner encouraged the public to contact the DEA or Crime Stoppers to report drug use or marketing.