Macon man is fifth to die of apparent overdose of synthetic drug

Investigators believe these fake pain pills could be linked to four deaths in Middle Georgia. Credit: Contributed
Investigators believe these fake pain pills could be linked to four deaths in Middle Georgia. Credit: Contributed

A 34-year-old Macon man is the fifth person in Middle Georgia to die of an apparent overdose after taking a potent synthetic opioid being sold on the street and marketed as Percocet, according to the Macon-Bibb County coroner.

Chief coroner Leno Jones said Monday that Robert Ketchup died in the intensive care unit of Coliseum Medical Centers Sunday where he had been since he was found unconscious at his mother’s home on Thursday.

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An autopsy will be performed Tuesday to confirm if his death could be blamed on the yellow oval pills law enforcement suspect killed four others and sent another 33, including Ketchup, to Middle Georgia hospitals in just a few days.

Jones said Ketchup “had a bunch of pills on him,” which have been sent to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s crime lab for analysis.

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The cluster of overdoses — in Bibb, Houston, Monroe and Dougherty Counties — was recognized a week ago.

The Georgia Poison Control Center started getting calls late on Sunday, June 4. By the end of the next day the number of people hospitalized rose to 30.

State health and law enforcement officials predicted there would be more.

A day later, on Tuesday of last week, the number increased to 30 hospitalized. By Friday, another three were added to the tally. On Sunday, Houston County authorities said they thought yet another person who may have overdosed had been hospitalized there while in neighboring Bibb County.

“I’ve been (in the) coroner’s office 26 years and EMS 32. I’ve never seen anything of this magnitude in Bibb County. Never,” Jones said. “It’s about as close to an epidemic as you can get. We’ve never seen anything like this.”

The majority of the overdoses have been in Bibb County with 10 cases so far, according to the local sheriff’s office.

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The pill linked to the middle Georgia overdose cluster is unlike any law enforcement has seen.

A preliminary analysis of some pills from Bibb County found they contained two synthetic opioids, including a version of fentanyl. Further testing is being done; the GBI thinks it could have results on the additional testing by Wednesday.

A rising tide of opioid addiction has been feeding an escalating public health crisis nationally and in Georgia. As dealers have become more sophisticated, officials are also seeing synthetic opioids, with varying chemical compositions.