This story originated from KYUK Public Media and was republished with permission.

BETHEL — The heroin seized in Quinhagak that was responsible for three overdoses and one death was found to contain large amounts of fentanyl. State tests showed that there was more fentanyl than heroin in the samples tested from the village. Troopers say this is the first time such large amounts of fentanyl have surfaced in a sample at the crime lab.

The people who overdosed in Quinhagak recently may have thought they were taking heroin, but they were using something much more potent. Fentanyl is a synthetic drug ten to twenty times stronger than heroin. Charles Foster is a Scientific Director with the state crime lab.

“Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that’s quite a bit stronger than morphine and heroin. Heroin is about four to five times more potent than morphine, whereas fentanyl is 50-100 times more potent,” said Foster.

Foster says fentanyl is a powerful painkiller commonly taken through skin patches for chronic pain management. Trooper spokesperson Megan Peters says fentanyl adds even more danger to the opioid epidemic sweeping rural Alaska.

“A heroin user, if they inject themselves with their ‘usual amount’ of heroin or what they think is what they normally take, and it has fentanyl in it when its unbeknownst to them, they really are at a greater risk for overdosing than if they were just consuming heroin,” said Peters.

Troopers say while this isn’t the first time fentanyl has been found mixed with heroin in the state, it is the first time it’s been found in large amounts. Last year the crime lab found it in a sample from Juneau, but Foster added that fentanyl is still relatively rare in Alaska.

The Drug Enforcement Agency issued a newsletter last March when reports surfaced of fentanyl being used illegally in the lower 48. Law enforcement officials are keeping watch for fake prescription pills that contain fentanyl instead of what is indicated on the label. Singer and songwriter Prince recently died due to an overdose from pills containing fentanyl.

Troopers are still investigating the three overdoses and one death in Quinhagak and would not release any further details.