The GBI said Thursday that synthetic opioids are among the ingredients in an apparently toxic street drug that has been circulating in Middle Georgia, sickening as many as 20 people and possibly linked to four deaths.
Officials have stressed that they have yet to determine whether people who died of suspected overdoses had ingested the yellow pills in question. Autopsy results were incomplete, and blood tests to tell for sure if they had taken the bad pills could take weeks.
The bad drugs were thought to have been counterfeits of the painkiller Percocet that were being sold as the real thing.
However, relatives of at least two of the dead, both of whom died this week, have told The Telegraph that they think their loved ones died of overdoses from prescribed drugs and not the street pills. It was still not known Thursday whether another death, that of a 21-year-old Monroe County man who died on Sunday, was connected to the toxic pills.
Even so, local authorities were considering all recent deaths that appear to be drug-related as having potential connections to the mysterious street pills. The GBI now says that lab tests show the pills are “consistent with a new fentanyl analogue,” one that investigators here have never seen.
“Due to the nature of the analysis, testing to confirm the full identity of the drug will require additional time,” the GBI noted in a statement Thursday. “The GBI Crime Laboratory continues to make the analysis a priority.”
Police and medical authorities have spent much of the week trying to find the source of the toxic pills and alerting people who might mistake them for Percocet.
A 60-year-old Macon woman thought to have taken one of the toxic pills on Monday was sent home from the hospital on Wednesday. But even then she said her head was hurting, “my chest is still burning and my legs are on fire.”
No new cases were reported on Thursday.
Bibb County Sheriff Davis Davis said early actions by doctors and police to treat the spate of drug-wrought illnesses as a public health issue rather than a crime helped inform locals about the dangerous pills and almost surely warned them away from the bad drugs.
“Even the drug dealers know they have a poison product on their hands,” Davis said.
He added that some who were selling the pills had “probably destroyed the lot” by now.
“It really would surprise me if we find anymore,” the sheriff said.
The Telegraph has learned that at least two locations in Macon — one at a residence on the city’s east side south of King-Danforth Elementary School in the Fort Hill area, and another at a house south of downtown off Ell Street — have been identified as places where the pills were sold.
About midday on Thursday, when a pair of Telegraph reporters and a photographer went to the house off Ell, four men were on the front porch.
A reporter asked the men whether it was the place where suspicious pills had been sold, but none of the guys said it was.
One of the men at the house just said, “Man, we ain’t no snitches. ... Get your ass out of here.”