DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Channel 2 Action News learned a deadly drug combination killed at least 22 people in Georgia since 2017, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation worries the number could rise.
The GBI said fentanyl fueled fatalities have hammered Georgia for several years now -- often when fentanyl, a potent opioid, is mixed with heroin or put in counterfeit painkiller pills.
"There are no rules for people who are manufacturing these substances and they can put anything they want to in any white powder that's bought on the street," said Deneen Kilcrease, with the GBI Crime Lab.
But there's a chilling new development. The GBI crime lab has found cocaine mixed with fentanyl in at least two drug seizures; one from metro Atlanta and one from coastal Georgia, opening up a whole new class of drug users to the possibility of death by fentanyl overdose.
"The trend of adding fentanyl to any other drug. The drug on its own (is) terrible, but this is extremely troubling trend that we would like to see end," Nelly Miles, with the GBI, said.
Miles said the GBI's medical examiner office completed lab reports in 2017 for 17 overdose deaths in counties across Georgia in which cocaine and fentanyl were the only two drugs that turned up in blood work.
There were five overdose deaths in lab reports finished so far this year -- for a total of 22 deaths.
Miles said if you add in cases in which cocaine, fentanyl and at least one other drug were present in the system of the deceased, the numbers swell to 48 deaths overall.
She said because those numbers come from blood work, there is no way to know for sure if the cocaine and fentanyl were already mixed when the user ingested them, but the possibilities are frightening
"We don't really know the full extent of the problem," Miles said.
"Whether it's a pill or whether it's a powder, if it's bought on the street, it could be deadly," Kilcrease said.
Latia Perry told Channel 2 Action News she's a nurse who has lived about her whole life in the neighborhood known as The Bluff and has heard word on the street about cocaine and fentanyl for months.
"We can't afford to lose anymore of my community residents," Perry said.
Miles said she requested a deep dive into the data as a result of a GBI investigation underway in southeast Georgia.
She said on Nov. 8, authorities in Camden County responded to four separate deaths and the possibility of tainted cocaine overdose is part of the probe.
Cox Media Group