#OurPain: Find out the most dangerous drug on the streets

LAS VEGAS - The I-Team is uncovering how legitimate pain patients are struggling because of the nationwide opioid crackdown.

Police do find pain pills on the streets, but there's another drug which has really taken southern Nevada by force.    

"I was doubled over in pain," said Don Reitmeyer, pain patient.

Patients like Reitmeyer say it's a struggle to get their pain medicine.

"They wound up putting me in the intensive care unit. I made the mistake of saying I'd put my car into something, if they didn't help fix my pain," he said.

Some doctors say they don't want to get in trouble.

"There is an environment of fear," said Dr. Michael Schatman, a Washington physician and internationally known pain expert. 

They point to new regulations being enforced which create more hurdles to prescribe and fill prescriptions for pain medicine because of the proclaimed "opioid crisis." 

"The battle against opioid abuse has become one of the top priorities of the Department of Justice," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Duncan at a law enforcement conference in Las Vegas in October.

"We have successfully prosecuted seven doctors for illegal opioid distribution," Duncan said. 

Reporter Vanessa Murphy: "We keep hearing about the opioid crisis. Is it kind of backfiring though on legitimate patients and legitimate doctors?"

Michael Harris, Assistant Special Agent in Charge for Homeland Security Investigations: "It can. There's regulations out there and a lot of people don't follow those regulations."

Reporter Vanessa Murphy: "Are you hearing complaints from physicians though that they do need to prescribe these pills but they're fearful now of law enforcement?

Michael Harris, Assistant Special Agent in Charge for Homeland Security Investigations: "I hadn't personally heard that but in the United States, we are overprescribing in my opinion."

Turns out, according to a drug trafficking threat assessment obtained by I-Team. Nevada is known by police to be among the top prescribers for oxycodone and hydrocodone and Clark County is a source to send those drugs out of state.

Heroin has grown in popularity over the past two years, but police are worried about the arrival of another drug.

"Almost overnight, here it is," said Keith Carter, who heads up the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program.

Fentanyl is a heavy-duty pain medication.

"Fentanyl deaths are up more than 540 percent in the last three years," Duncan said.

The report points to overdose deaths from fentanyl mixed with other drugs - mainly heroin. But a Drug Enforcement Agency report also points out the fentanyl that's killing people isn't the kind you get from the pharmacy.

"The fentanyl helps enhance the euphoria of the heroin," Metro Detective Brian Grammas said.

It's also cheaper than heroin and police say it's being imported in large quantities mainly from China and Mexico.

In 2016 alone, investigators report five separate seizures of fentanyl in Nevada. Detective Grammas says police have discovered people buying pill presses off the Internet and fooling their consumers.

Xanax, oxycontin, Lortab, it looks, it has all the markings, looks identical to the actual pill and in turn it's actual fentanyl," Grammas said.

A Maryland sheriff's office posted a photo showing how little fentanyl is needed to kill someone.

"Fentanyl is probably the most dangerous drug we've had on our streets ever in the history of America," Carter said.

Overdose deaths have been reported simply from touching or inhaling the drug. While police work on how to equip themselves on handling fentanyl, they have another threat to deal with in Nevada - which isn't even an opioid. Meth which is a stimulant.

"Back seven, eight years ago, we were buying meth, an ounce of meth for around a thousand dollars," Grammas said. "Well, now we're buying it for $300 just because of how much meth is here in town."

Two recovering addicts tell the I-Team it's not pain pills they kept finding.

Reporter Vanessa Murphy: "How easy is it to find meth here?

Amanda Miller, recovering addict: "It's everywhere. Everywhere." 

 "You have to kind of like work your way with the person who is selling their prescription drugs and etcetera using that, and meth people are actually making it," said recovering addict Charles Shipley.

Keith Carter with the HIDTA program says the the streets are basically flooded with meth.

Reporter Vanessa Murphy: "So, how come opioids are getting so much attention then?"

Keith Carter, HIDTA program: "I think opioids are getting a lot of attention because these are prescription drugs that we use throughout our country that are for legitimate purposes. Where meth is not legitimate, and people like you and I are affected by this." 

There is concern fentanyl will be the new meth.

Reporter Vanessa Murphy: "Are you concerned that fentanyl will replace meth, is that what it is?  

Michael Harris, Assistant Special Agent in Charge for Homeland Security Investigations: "Yes. Absolutely. I think it's going to replace meth and it's very, very dangerous." 

Some doctors and pain patients like Reitmeyer tell the I-Team instead of using the umbrella term "opioid crisis," we need to figure out another way to fight drug abuse to stop people like him from falling through the cracks.

"They need to distinguish, when they're going with opiate deaths. They need to distinguish, is that opiate a pill? Or was that heroin? Or was it fentanyl? Reitmeyer said.

The Metro Police Department is working to equip officers with NARCAN, a spray to block the effect of an opiate and stop an overdose.
 


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