Deaths from fake Xanax attributed to rising prescription drug abuse

On Tuesday, the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office announced deputies had arrested a man who admitted to supplying counterfeit Xanax to one of the men who died recently.

The suspect is 22-year-old Daniel Meehan from Aptos. At his home, police say they found cocaine, guns, marijuana plants and a butane hash oil lab.

In October, the two men died after taking what they thought was Xanax. Authorities say the drug looked nearly identical to Xanax, which treats anxiety and panic disorders.

The pills actually contained Fentanyl, a potent opioid.

The epidemic of prescription drug abuse has taken a deadly toll around the country. KTVU talked with a police officer who focuses much of his attention on the prescription drug trade.

Among his duties, Richmond Police Sergeant Tim Simmons counts seizing the contents of the station's medication drop off receptacle.

He showed off two baggies filled with hundreds of pills.

"This bag right here is a goldmine," said Simmons. He explained that he had just emptied the receptacle, so the deposits had just come in.

"This bag right here has Fentanyl in it, which is what we were just talking about, which was laced with the Xanax, said Simmons. Each one of these boxes would fetch on the street, easily $200-300."

That's exactly the kind of contraband that some people sell, others want to consume.

"We had no idea people died from this," said April Rovero of San Ramon. But now, she knows all too well the pitfalls of prescription drug abuse. "I can go back there in a heartbeat and feel all the feelings that I felt that night. It was awful."

In 2009, while he was a student at Arizona State University, Rovero's son Joseph died of an overdose by combining Xanax and Oxycodone.

"He was just a kind person. He had a great sense of humor, great hugger. That's what I miss so much about him," Rovero said.

Since her sons death, Rovero has dedicated herself to convincing people -- especially young people -- not to abuse the drugs in Joseph's name.

"He had the world waiting for him; all the potential in the world, just gone in a heartbeat," said Rovero. "His death was avoidable. And any of these overdoses that we are seeing across the country are avoidable."

News of fake or laced Xanax that killed two men in Santa Cruz and killed one and sickened three others in San Francisco just echoes what Rovero and Sgt. Simmons say about prescription meds in general.

"Absolutely, you can die from this. And it does not take much," said Simmons.

In Joseph Rovero's case, the doctor who prescribed his medicines was convicted on October 30th in Los Angeles of three counts of second degree murder for his death and the deaths of two other patients who died of overdoses.

Meehan posted $50,000 bail Friday and is scheduled to make his initial court appearance on Nov. 19, District Attorney Jeff Rosell said.