DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - Law enforcement agencies issued a sobering warning Tuesday about a deadly drug on the streets of metro Atlanta.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) partnered on what they labeled "a public safety alert" about the synthetic opioid fentanyl. The drug is "transdermal," meaning it can be absorbed through the skin.
"Fentanyl will kill you graveyard dead if you get it on your skin," warned GBI Director Vernon Keenan.
The GBI invited law enforcement officers from the metro area to participate in a special training program about how to handle the drug.
"Every drug seizure is potentially life-threatening to the officer encountering the drug," said Jack Killorin of HIDTA.
They advise officers handling unknown substances to at the very least use gloves. The GBI has ordered additional safety equipment for its laboratory technicians who test drugs collected in the course of an investigation.
The warning, however, goes further than just law enforcement professionals. Officials said many criminals use fentanyl in counterfeit drugs and sell them to unsuspecting customers.
"What they think they're doing is they're buying something like oxycodone and the tablet has the markings for oxycodone when in fact it has a combination of heroin and different types of fentanyl in it," Keenan explained. "What they're going to wind up is dead."
The GBI said they had 162 fentanyl-related deaths come through the state medical examiner's office in 2016.
"Our overdose deaths--I don't have numbers for this year yet--but there is no doubt that they're increasing dramatically," said Dr. Jonathan Eisenstat, the GBI's chief medical examiner. "We have a few that we're working on today that we've performed autopsies on and unfortunately, we've had so many that we don't have enough room in our morgue to hold all our cases."
GBI officials plan to hold more training sessions with law enforcement officers from around the state.