Weather, COVID may be to blame for increase in dangerous new illegal drug found in Northeast Wisconsin

Published: Feb. 8, 2021 at 6:14 PM CST
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BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - A new illegal drug has made its way into Northeast Wisconsin, prompting warnings about the potential for overdoses.

It’s a synthetic opioid, made in a lab and similar to fentanyl, but it’s raising new concerns for investigators.

Commonly called ‘purple heroin’ because of its purplish-color, the drug goes by a long list of names and almost as many substances inside of it.

It’s moving to the top of an alert list for Brown County Drug Task Force investigators.

“Now we’re seeing a bunch of different synthetic opioids other than just fentanyl,” explains Lt. Kevin Kinnard, who leads the task force.

The newest synthetic opioids are called Para-Fluorofentanyl or brorphine, made in labs in China or Mexico, often in powder or counterfeit pill form. While the drugs are not an entirely new mixture, they are now showing up in drugs tested at the crime lab, Kinnard says.

Investigators say they can contain fentanyl, Tylenol, acetaminophen, anti-depressants and a host of other ingredients that can make for a dangerous and lethal concoction, causing similar respiratory distress as fentanyl.

“They are getting a stronger drug, probably in higher doses, and they’re not aware of it,” says Kinnard.

The problem, he says, comes when users don’t know how much, or exactly what, they are getting.

The drug could have a different level of potency with each use, and sometimes include strange combinations of stimulants mixed with depressants.

“For example, you have methamphetamine mixed with fentanyl. Why do you do that? I have no idea, because it’s an up with a down. That makes no sense, but we’re also running into that,” Kinnard explains.

There are still also big concerns with the use and availability of heroin and meth, a problem that’s gripped the area the last several years.

Kinnard says COVID-19 didn’t help.

“We had intel that cartels were hanging onto cocaine because it is more expensive to produce and they were pushing methamphetamine and synthetic opioids because they’re cheaper,” he says.

Cartels may have changed tactics for many reasons, Kinnard says, including a fear that cocaine, which is more expensive, would be easier to find and seize coming across the border since fewer people were traveling.

In that case, they would hold onto it, creating a bigger supply.

But by the end of 2020, Kinnard says that changed, with a resurgence of cocaine in Northeast Wisconsin.

Regardless of the kind of drug, he says it’s frustrating not to get a better hold on the problem.

“We would hope that they would seek treatment if they have an issue with it. There’s plenty of providers available, because at the end of the day, the users drive the whole market. If nobody bought the drugs, they wouldn’t be here,” he adds.

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