Black market dangers hit home

Local death, hospitalizations underscore risky nature of illicit drugs

Butte County has become accustomed to major media outlets reporting on events in our backyard. That’s largely due to the Camp Fire. But over the weekend, various news agencies from around the nation, including CNN and Rolling Stone, covered what public-safety officials are referring to as a “mass-casualty event” involving illicit drugs.

That mass overdose at a Chico home on Saturday (Jan. 12) ended the life of one man. The culprit: likely fentanyl, a synthetic opioid. Local public-safety personnel administered Naloxone (also called Narcan) to several others at the scene—at least a dozen people present were hospitalized.

Fentanyl originally was developed as a pain reliever for cancer patients in advanced cases of the disease. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, reports that the highly addictive drug is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. Its illicit form has become an increasingly popular recreational drug in recent years, with deadly results.

If the name of the narcotic rings a bell, it’s probably because the accidental overdose deaths of several famous people—including Prince and Tom Petty in 2016 and 2017, respectively—have been linked to the drug. More recently, rapper Mac Miller died from a combination of cocaine and fentanyl, according to toxicology reports.

The mass overdose in Chico occurred at a gathering at a home in a suburban neighborhood. We suspect the attendees thought they were using cocaine or perhaps another party drug. That’s what happened a week earlier in Fresno: Three men thought they were snorting cocaine, but it turned out to be the potent opioid. One of them died.

That’s the thing about black market drugs—you never know what you’re going to get.

Tuesday (Jan. 15), Butte County Public Health sent out a press release warning residents of the possibility that a “high-potency batch of illegal drugs, possibly laced with another substance, may be in circulation.” It noted that Naloxone—the aforementioned drug used to reverse the toxic effects of opioid overdose—can be acquired at a pharmacy without a prescription. Treatment for opioid addiction is available locally, added the agency (see more at

The health department’s warning and advice comes a day after yet another report of multiple overdoses, this one involving three people at an Oroville casino. No fatalities were reported in that instance, and heroin is suspected. However, the Butte County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the case, including whether it has any connection to the one in Chico.

Either way, these reports likely hit close to home for many in our community. We urge everyone to heed the warnings.