Medical and law enforcement officials in Seattle have warned the public to avoid taking cocaine because the drug being sold on the street is contaminated with acetylfentanyl. This warning comes after autopsies and toxicology reports of two women who died in King County showed that they had snorted cocaine laced with the lethal synthetic opiate.

Acetylfentanyl is an analog of fentanyl, which is an opioid drug that is about 40 times more potent than heroin and about 80 times stronger than morphine.

In a statement, Dr. Jeff Duchin, the Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County, said, “Cocaine users need to be aware that acetylfentanyl-laced cocaine can kill quickly when snorted or injected. There is no way to know whether cocaine is laced with acetylfentanyl, so the best prevention is to avoid use of cocaine altogether.”

Women Who Died from Cocaine Use Identified

The two women who died on May 30 after snorting cocaine were finally identified by the King County Medical Examiner’s Office this week on Monday as Sara Valenzuela, 36, and Maria Paschell, 49.

According to the Seattle Times, a leasing agent called the police to an apartment belonging to Valenzuela on the 1500 block of 12th Avenue on June 1. The victim’s mother reached out to the agent because Valenzuela was not picking up her phone. Once the police arrived, they found the deceased victims as well as a small dog, which was taken to the Seattle Animal Shelter. The nature of the relationship between Valenzuela and Paschell was unknown.

Toxicology reports finally showed that both victims snorted cocaine from a batch that was laced with acetylfentanyl. Even though health officials state that the drug is not as potent as prescription fentanyl, it is still very dangerous. The press release from the King County Medical Office explains that acetylfentanyl is synthesized in illegal laboratories thus making it more potent than heroin. In fact, it might even require multiple doses of Naloxone to reverse an overdose.

In a report by Capitol Hill Times, Banta-Green, a senior research scientist with the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, said he would be “surprised” if the story is true that the cocaine was laced with acetylfentanyl. He theorized that “such a combination wouldn’t make fiscal sense for a drug dealer.” Nevertheless, he added that he knows that it is not uncommon for dealers to mix the two drugs.

Banta-Green also referenced last year’s only report of an acetylfentanyl overdose death in King County saying that “it’s nearly impossible to determine an appropriate dose. The line between getting high and dead is very thin.”

For now, Seattle will have to remain vigilant to prevent an outbreak of overdose deaths from contaminated batches of cocaine. While the public warning was an important first response, more needs to be done to educate the citizens on the dangers of acetylfentanyl.

The King County health officials have stated that they are still investigating where the contaminated drug came from and will provide the public with more information as they receive it.