Counter Narcotics chief: Public awareness key to curbing fentanyl-related overdose deaths

Savannah’s overdose deaths are climbing as those addicted to opioids seek pain medications on the street, many of which are laced with lethal fentanyl

The following is an excerpt from a recent “The Commute” podcast discussion featuring Chatham-Savannah Counter Narcotics Team Director Michael Sarhatt. Comments have been condensed in the interest of space. The full interview is available at or through mobile device podcast apps by searching “The Commute with @SavannahOpinion.”

Question: You took over leadership of the Counter Narcotics Team, or CNT, late last year, coming here from Knoxville. You recognized quickly a trend that involved addiction to opioid pain medication. Can you walk us through that issue?

Michael Sarhatt: “Coming from Knox County, where we had a really bad problem that we had to deal with on a daily basis, I became attuned to the number of overdoses and overdose deaths. So when I got to Savannah, I was quick to try and get a grip on the situation. It’s nowhere near as as as extreme as it was in Tennessee, but that’s not to say it can’t get that way.

“The problem with the opioids is that they’re extremely addictive. They alter the physiology of the brain, so the more you take them, the more addicted you become .The country overall is facing these issues. Every city.”

Q: Like any addiction, there is an evolutionary cycle for those who get hooked on opioids. How do you go from taking medication prescribed to you to buying pain meds on the streets and on to seeking even more dangerous highs?

MS: “You start with a prescription from a doctor and you fill it at the pharmacy. Then one day you run out of pills and the pharmacy is close. The addiction is so strong you turn to buying pills on the street. The problem with that is these pills look like they’re from Big Pharma, but they’re not. They’re manufactured with pill machines by drug dealers and they can make thousands of pills. So the product you think is in there really isn’t, and that’s where the real danger begins with the introduction of fentanyl.”

Q: As scary as opioid addiction is, fentanyl is described as a real nightmare. What is it? Why is it so dangerous?

MS: “Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin. To put in perspective just how small a dose of fentanyl is lethal, think about a Splenda packet. There’s one gram in that whole packet. There are 1000 milligrams in a gram. It only takes two to three milligrams of fentanyl can kill you. So take that little packet of Splenda, open it, dump it on a table and divide it into 1,000 pieces. Two of those can kill you.”

Q: Why do dealers lace their drugs with it?

MS: ” Because fentanyl is cheap, and because it produces the best high, which brings the addict back for more. The problem with with that most of your drug dealers didn’t graduate with a chemistry degree from Georgia Tech. They’re not lab chemists and they don’t have the equipment or the machines to make sure that it’s less than two milligrams in that dosage. They’re eyeballing it.”

Q: What is CNT doing to combat fentanyl here in Chatham County?

MS: “I’ve assigned two people full time to start investigating any overdose death. We partner with all the local police departments in investigating opioid deaths, so we can chase the individual that distributed that dope or that pill that cause that death. We’re going after them, pure and simple. Yet the pace of overdoses and overdose deaths is accelerating.”

Read the full article here.