MOULTRIE, GA (WALB) - Dangerous, powerful synthetic narcotics are being sold on Georgia streets that are so powerful they have killed.
A mysterious and deadly pill hits the streets
A mystery pill last month killed four people in Central and South Georgia and sent dozens to the hospital.
It's part of what experts have called an opioid epidemic sweeping across Georgia and becoming even more dangerous.
Emily Wood was one of the scientists at the Georgia Bureau of Investigations Crime Lab tasked to discover what was in the mysterious yellow pills that struck Central and South Georgia in June with a wave of deadly overdoses. Pills that contained drugs so powerful the people in the lab had to take unprecedented safety measures.
"It's become very important for us to protect ourselves," Wood said.
So deadly even handling the drug could cause an overdose
Scientists quickly found that just touching the pills, or breathing around them could lead to an overdose.
"This is a game changer," said GBI Public Affairs Deputy Director J. Bahan Rich.
What the GBI discovered was the pills contained two synthetic pain killers, one called pink on the streets, the other more shocking, was Fentanyl, a painkiller usually only used on terminal patients.
"Never in a million years. We've seen trends with designer drugs, synthetic marijuana, bath salts," explained GBI Public Affairs Director Nelly Miles. "But we would never think someone would actually try to manipulate the Fentanyl."
The pills overdosed and killed four people, while dozens spent weeks on ventilators in hospitals to survive. And Investigators believe the pills were made as an experiment, with addicts being used as the guinea pigs.
Where it's being made and how it's being sold
"What we are finding they are being manufactured overseas, in Asia, in China," Miles said. "What they are doing is all about economics. They want to make money."
And even more disturbing, investigators said the pills probably were just ordered on the Internet and delivered to the supplier.
"Through the mail. Just ordering through what they call the dark web," Rich said.
The pills were stamped with a serial number saying it was Percocet, but instead, it was a deadly poison.
GBI agents said people have to beware of buying painkillers on the Internet or the street.
"Just because it's stamped to look like an Oxycodone that you get from a legitimate pharmacist, the chances of it actually being what is in there, they are slim to none nowadays," explained Miles.
Wood said that after examining the drugs, people need to understand these new painkillers are dangerous, leading to overdose and even death, just from touch or breathing nearby.
Suppliers are targeting addicts
Meanwhile, painkiller addiction in South Georgia is being called an epidemic.
WALB's Jim Wallace spoke with a recovering addict, who said she understands how people hooked on painkillers would have taken those mysterious pills, even knowing they were counterfeits.
"I would have done it," said Tiffany Hancock.
Hancock said she was heartbroken when she heard about people dying from the mysterious pills across Georgia. Because before 2011 she was an addict who would also Google pill stampings to see what they were before taking them.
"They got the right numbers and they got the right letters, so people are naive," Hancock explained. "When you are looking for a high, you are naive, you don't, you just take it."
Hancock, after surgery, was prescribed painkillers by a doctor, leading to her addiction.
"It just went down from there. And I literally lost my children. Lost my car. I sold everything I ever had to get high," Hancock said.
"In the last year to 18 months, I've seen more than I ever have," explained Aspire Chief Clinical Officer Dana Glass.
Glass said the number of persons they are seeing addicted to painkillers in South Georgia is skyrocketing.
"Over the last year we have probably seen our opioid numbers quadruple, which is in line with the national numbers," said Glass.
So many addicts are seeking help, the state turned the former hospital in Arlington over to Aspire, to be used as a long term rehab center for both men and women.
"What people don't realize is that we truly are in an epidemic, when it comes to the opioids," Glass explained. Six out of every 10 overdoses are opioid related. That's a huge number."
Hancock went into a similar year long rehab program on New Year's Eve 2010, and now she is clean and working as a counselor to help addicts.
"I'm so glad that's not me today because I would have been that person to overdose," Hancock said. "It literally broke my heart because you never know what you are buying off the street."
Officials issue a warning to the public about the dangerous pills
GBI agents are sending out a warning that painkillers like this have killed Georgians.
The GBI said that since that first wave of overdoses they have not seen more of those mysterious yellow pills.
Investigators said the pill makers probably saw they were killing their customers and stopped shipping them.
A 10-year-old died in Miami last week from a Fentanyl overdose, and Investigators are not sure how he came into contact with the drug.
But more of those mysterious yellow pills could still be on the streets, and could literally kill if you just touch them.
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