Metro

Billerica police probe three fatal drug overdoses; worried about cocaine-fentanyl mix

In the wake of a cluster of three drug-related deaths, Billerica police report that drug dealers are now mixing cocaine and fentanyl, a potentially fatal blend that users won’t recognize until they start experiencing overdose symptoms.

Billerica police Deputy Chief Roy Frost said Friday that a man and a woman in their 20s fatally overdosed last weekend, and a man died in a separate incident. He said forensic testing is underway to see whether the drug involved had the dangerous mixture of cocaine and fentanyl.

He said detectives have seized the cocaine/fentanyl mix during other recent drug investigations. Users who buy cocaine in its powder form won’t be able to tell by visual examination whether the drugs they buy have fentanyl because it is also a white powder.

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“They may be thinking they are buying a stimulant drug like cocaine, but they are also being exposed to fentanyl as well,’’ he said. “They need to be prepared; they may go into an overdose.”

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Frost said the recent appearance of the potentially fatal mixture is an effort by drug dealers to make more money. Cocaine is comparatively expensive, while the much less costly fentanyl is widely available in Massachusetts and across the region.

“There’s no question that these people who are all about preying on citizens for financial gain and are going to do everything they can to see more product and make more money,’’ he said. “These are the people we are targeting on the enforcement side.”

Frost said the town dispatches a substance abuse counselor to the home or apartment where first responders were called after someone has an overdose and provides support, including pushing to help them toward treatment.

He said 10 people have died from overdoses in Billerica this year, which averages about a dozen deaths a year. He said the goal of the public outreach is to cut down on drug-related deaths.

John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.