Fentanyl overdose deaths on the rise

With a spike in overdoses, authorities are very concerned about heroin. But now, another drug is on the scene and this one is even more deadly.

Law enforcement is blaming an increase of lethal overdoses on fentanyl. It is significantly more powerful than heroin, and depending on its purity, it can be 100 times more potent than morphine.

Across the country, drug enforcement is sounding the alarm, including here in our community.

This is the club no one wants to belong to - mothers who have lost children to a drug overdose.

But at least two of these mothers we met said autopsies revealed it wasn't heroin as they suspected. It was fentanyl.

"I'm a nurse, I knew it was a surgical anesthesia, but I had not heard anything about that being used in place of heroin or being mixed with heroin," said Nancy Ruffner. "Now I hear about it all the time."

Ruffner was involved in her son life. She said Danny was creative and artistic. He was your typical boy - active and loved superheroes. Also, he was funny and loving.

"I was a PTA president when my kids were growing up at their school," said Ruffner. "For the most part, a stay-at-home mom thinking I was doing the right thing. Never in my life did I ever believe anything like this would happen to me."

Danny did well in school, but after graduating from the University of Maryland, things changed. He had a job lined up, but never completed the online credentialing.

The Ruffners suspected he was depressed.

"My husband had found some syringes in the basement," Ruffner said.

They tried getting help, but the downward spiral was too fast. On June 14, 2015, Danny injected his fatal dose.

Police told Ruffner her son had died of a heroin overdose. The autopsy later revealed it was fentanyl.

"We were completely blown away when we found out it was fentanyl," she said.

Fentanyl use is skyrocketing in D.C., Maryland and Virginia According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the number of lethal overdoses has tripled in the past three years.

"This is pure poison, it's deadly," said Karl Colder, special agent in charge at the DEA. "When you take it, even the smallest amount can kill you."

It's so deadly that it's dangerous for the investigators combing through evidence at the scene of an overdose. Touching the powder is enough to absorb into the skin.

"It's transdermal," Colder said. "It can kill you right on the spot."

Following an overdose, users will flock to the dealer who provided the deadly dose in search of the most potent stuff.

Fentanyl is cheap to manufacture illicitly. It is often made in China and shipped through Mexico. Now, dealers are making more money by disguising it as oxycodone, percocet or oxycontin, which typically sell for more money. And it is easy to get on the streets or online.

"It's like playing Russian roulette," said Colder. "They don't know what they are getting. They know that it's potent and that's what they want."

Beth Kane Davidson has been drug addiction treatment specialist for decades. She said the problem has reached a fevered pitch.

"We see more and more people coming in for treatment," said Davidson. "They are younger and younger. You can do everything and suddenly find yourself asking, 'What happened?'"

Jimena Ryan lost her son Casey to a fentanyl overdose.

"When I got the autopsy that it was 100 percent fentanyl, I knew in my heart of hearts that Casey had no idea what he was taking," said Ryan.

"Never in my wildest dream did I ever think anything like this would ever happen," said Ruffner.