Fake Xanax linked to 9 deaths

Posted at 6:23 PM, Mar 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-22 00:38:32-04

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office is warning the public about a dangerous trend.  Nine people have died in recent weeks after buying pills from the street they thought were Xanax. Instead, the pills contained not only Xanax, but also a lethal dosage of fentanyl.

The drug is being sold for $3 to $5 a pill on the street.  Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid that has legitimate medical uses for pain, but because it's so strong it is usually prescribed in a patch form. It is deadly when take orally as a pill.

In Pinellas County since January of this year, three confirmed deaths have been linked to fentanyl laced Xanax pills. Another six deaths are suspected to be linked to the drug. The most recent death occurred Saturday night, when a 25-year-old Dunedin woman overdosed.

Undercover officers have been working to pull the drugs off the street, and have done so in nine cases so far.

Deputies are also worried about a new opioid drug hitting the streets. Labs are only identifying it as u-47700 right now. So far, three deaths have been connected to that drug. The counterfeit Xanax pills have all been marked with a number, which is different from legally prescribed Xanax pills.

The Pinellas County sheriff calls these drugs a "grave concern," especially because Pinellas County is the only place in Florida they've cropped up so far. The goal now is to determine the source and manufacturer.  Sheriff Bob Gualtieri insists anyone caught selling these drugs to someone who overdoses, will be charged with first degree murder.

"The reality is we're not going to totally stop drug abuse.  We want to raise awareness and make people think twice that what they take could kill them," said Sheriff Gualtieri.