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Variations of synthetic fentanyl add to Manatee County's heroin epidemic

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MANATEE CO., Fla.-- First it was heroin, then fentanyl and now synthetic forms of fentanyl, leading to a sharp spike in the number of fatal overdoses this summer in Manatee County. 

Now the 12th District Medical Examiner's Office has developed a test to detect those synthetic forms of fentanyl.

"We can now test the samples that we have and we've found that there's a lot of Carfentanil causing deaths in Manatee County," said Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Russell Vega.

Since the first of the year, variations of synthetic fentanyl, or analogs as they're known, have been found in 8 fatal overdoses in Sarasota County and 38 fatal overdoses in Manatee County.

The most lethal and most common type is Carfentanil, which is estimated to be 10 thousand times more potent than morphine.

"It  just takes a tiny, tiny amount to cause very severe problems," said Dr. Vega. 

Now Vega says first responders are finding Narcan has little effect on these synthetic forms of fentanyl.

"The amount that they're used to seeing a response with in say more typical overdose patients with heroin or even fentanyl is just not being effective with the carfentanil patients," said Vega. 

At Centerstone Addiction Center Melissa Larkin-Skinner is at ground zero of the epidemic.

"I've never seen anything like this," said Larkin-Skinner.  "It's very disturbing and heartbreaking. We're trying. We have a whole community of people who are trying to find an answer."

For now, she says the major hurdle in this fight is a lack of understanding and awareness of addiction as a disease.

"The big silver lining is that people are realizing addiction is a disease," said Larkin-Skinner. "We're able to get the word out and people are willing to listen right now, because people are so desperate."