GERING — Scotts Bluff County Sheriff Mark Overman refers to Colorado as the area’s “canary in the coal mine” because law enforcement and drug problems experienced in northern Colorado soon spread to the Nebraska Panhandle.
Use of the powerful painkillers, both prescription and non-prescription, has been rapidly increasing in both the U.S. and Canada since about 2010. By 2015, overdose deaths from opioids surpassed deaths from both car accidents and guns.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, overdose deaths, especially from prescription opioids and heroin, have reached epidemic levels.
Nebraska State Patrol Sgt. Brian Eads serves as the WING Drug Task Force commander. He said the area has been dealing with opioids, particularly prescription drugs, for some time. But now heroin is starting to make more of an appearance in even smaller towns in the Panhandle.
Much of the heroin they’re seeing is cut with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid painkiller that has a rapid onset and short duration of action. It’s 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
Eads said DEA statistics show a large majority of seized heroin has been cut with fentanyl, which is considerably stronger than the heroin itself.
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