WILKES-BARRE, Pa. -- Law enforcement officials now say fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is responsible for more deaths in our area than heroin.
U.S. Senator Pat Toomey was in our area on Friday and called on China to stop exporting this deadly drug.
On area streets, Fentanyl is known as Dragon's Breath, China White, or China Girl because it's largely smuggled from China into the U.S. where for fentanyl seems to be spreading unchecked.
One this recovering addict from Lackawanna County was hooked on fentanyl for more than a year. While all other legal and illegal drugs are measured in milligrams, fentanyl is measured in micrograms. Just three grains of the drug can be lethal.
"Inexperienced people with it, their first time can die," said the recovering addict.
Statistics from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency show fentanyl claiming more lives than heroin in northeastern and central Pennsylvania.
In 2015, autopsy reports showed only two area counties with more overdose deaths involving fentanyl than heroin.
By 2017, the statistics flipped.
Many counties resembled Northumberland, where coroners found fentanyl in just seven percent of drug overdose deaths in 2015. Two years later, that number jumped to 70 percent.
"It is massively more lethal than, certainly, than any other common opioid," said U.S. Senator Pat Toomey, (R) Pennsylvania.
At a news conference in Wilkes-Barre, Sen. Toomey said China has to be held accountable.
The Republican from Allentown is co-sponsoring a bill calling for sanctions on China if it doesn't do more to stop exporting fentanyl to the U.S.
In late January, border patrol agents seized $3 million worth of fentanyl at the Mexican border.
"Fentanyl that originates in China often makes its way into the U.S. either through Canada or Mexico. The Mexicans and the Canadians are working with us to shut that down," said Sen. Toomey.
Police say fentanyl on the streets is a Chinese import and not a stolen prescription painkiller.
Wilkes-Barre Police Chief Joseph Coffay says that puts cops and paramedics in danger.
"We have to be very careful how we handle that patient and how we handle that evidence so that we're not exposed," said Chief Coffay.
One man said he was careless like other addicts who often mixed fentanyl with other drugs.
"The one time I overdosed and almost died, I mixed it with another drug, and I had a couple of good friends come over. They found me and thank God they did."
Sen. Toomey's bill has Republican and Democratic support and gives the president the option of imposing sanctions on China or other nations that don't take steps in stopping fentanyl made in their countries from making it to American streets.