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RANGELY | The Rangely Police Department and the Rio Blanco Coroner’s office have concluded their investigation into the sudden death due to respiratory arrest of Martin Dean Elder, 30 on Oct. 1. Elder was staying in his grandparents’ house at the time. The Rangely District Hospital EMS crew and Dr. Timothy Hsu attempted to resuscitate Elder at the location but were not able to do so. The death was ruled an accident.
An autopsy performed in Grand Junction revealed no abnormalities to explain the sudden death of an otherwise healthy young man. However, blood tests revealed a toxic level of furanylfentanyl, an illegal “designer” narcotic closely related to fentanyl.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigations recently analyzed a white substance found near Elder’s body at the time of death and determined that the substance was, indeed, furanylfentanyl, also known as “Pink” or “U47700.”
Further investigation determined that Elder obtained this substance online from an overseas address, and had possibly been using the drug for some time.
An overdose of furanylfentanyl is considered the most likely explanation for Elder’s death.
Fentanyl is an extremely potent synthetic narcotic used in medicine for the treatment of severe, disabling pain, particular for cancer patients. Minute amounts are very effective.
While fentanyl is only available by prescription, Chinese laboratories have “tweaked” the formula for to create multiple versions, or analogs, of fentanyl, which are then sold over the internet. Furanylfentanyl is one of those analogs, and was added to the Schedule I list of controlled substances by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency on Nov. 28, following the death of a 30-year-old Illinois man in March 2016 thought to be the first overdose linked to furanylfentanyl.
The concentration of the effective drug in a powder obtained illegally may vary greatly and the toxic doses are easily reached and exceeded. The drug induces respiratory suppression and the subsequent arrest is fatal.
“Any substance consumed can cause harm and death if taken in excess,” wrote Rio Blanco County Coroner Dr. Albert Krueger. “Many substances like furanylfentanyl and other opioids cause dependency and require the user to increase the amount consumed to obtain the desired euphoric effect. That in turn takes those individuals closer to the toxic amounts, causing respiratory arrest.”
Officially, in the U.S., 325 deaths have been related to this drug alone in the first ten months of this year, not counting Elder, who leaves behind a grieving family, including a young child.
“Anybody who becomes addicted to narcotics like furanylfentanyl can find help in Rio Blanco County,” Krueger wrote. “Professionals at Rangely District Hospital and Pioneers Medical Center are there to help. Mindsprings professionals are there to help. Rio Blanco Public Health Nurse will help. Your police will lead you to help. Individuals afflicted by addiction just need to ask for help to start the road of freeing themselves from addictive substances.”
The State of Colorado has a law in place, referred to as Good Samaritan 911, that exempts people from arrest and prosecution if they report a suspected overdose event and need for medical assistance.