Potentially lethal painkiller being sold as heroin in Atlanta

by: Tom Regan Updated:

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ATLANTA —

Drug agents and the Georgia Poison Center tell Channel 2 Actions News they are on the lookout for a new drug threat that has recently claimed the lives of dozens of people in other states. 

Dealers are blending a powerful painkilling drug called Fentanyl with heroin to concoct a potent and dangerous mix. In some cases, the drug alone is being sold as heroin.

"I think he was murdered. He thought he was buying heroin," said parent Stacie Smalley.

Smalley sat down with Channel's 2's Tom Regan to discuss the death of her son.

Joshua Smalley, 26, of Douglas County, died after an accidental overdose in February. She said her son had used heroin in the past, and she assumed that was the drug that he ingested.

But this week, the Georgia medical examiner sent her the results of Joshua's autopsy. It concluded he died from an overdose of fentanyl.

Prior to his death, Joshua exchanged text messages with a drug dealer questioning what the dealer had given him.

In text messages he's asking, “Why does this taste different, look different than “H..?”

In mid-text, Joshua died.

“It hit him like that." said Smalley.

The Georgia Poison Center told Regan, the number of emergency calls linked to fentanyl have spiked in the past two years. In 2012, 39 overdoses were reported.

The number jumped to 62 in 2013. So far this year, the Poison Center has handled 17 overdose calls.

"We think that what's happening is people are having more access to this, either from accidental overdoses with patches that are sold as a prescription drug, or from being mixed into drugs that are sold on the street as heroin or sold as other things. Beware, drugs sold as heroin, or drugs sold as something that may contain fentanyl, and used in an overdose, might kill you," said Georgia Poison Center Medical Director Dr. Robert Geller.

Stacie Smalley said police have opened an investigation that she hopes will result in the arrest of the man who sold the lethal drugs to her son. She said she wanted to speak out about her tragedy in hope that it may prevent another.

"We did everything. We gave all the love and support you could possibly give. And he couldn't help himself. I don't want any mother to feel the loss that I feel. I don’t want any father to feel the loss that I feel, that my mom and dad feel. I wake up knowing that he’s (not) going to be there. I cry myself to sleep knowing I'm (not) going to have my big guy. My son," said Smalley.