Grand Forks police say recent round of drug overdose cases are just 'the tip of the iceberg'

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FARGO, North Dakota — A new round of synthetic drug overdoses in the Grand Forks area has prompted police to issue their second warning within three months.

Grand Forks Police Lt. Brett Johnson said Friday there have been at least three overdoses in the last few weeks, and likely more. One of the victims died from ingesting the substances, although Johnson would not be specific.

"Apparently people aren't getting the message or realizing how dangerous this stuff is," Johnson said.

The report follows a similar announcement in January after 18-year-old Bailey Henke of Grand Forks died from an overdose of powdered fentanyl. A handful of people have been charged in federal court in relation to his death.

Police say no arrests have been made in connection to the latest overdoses, which involve fentanyl and a version of NBOMe, a synthetic drug with effects similar to those of LSD. Johnson said he hadn't heard of NBOMe until this case.

"I think it's sort of in the same family (as fentanyl) and being obtained online," he said. "That makes it even more dangerous, because you don't know where it's coming from and you don't know exactly what it is."

Federal authorities believe that Brandon Hubbard, 40, of Portland, Oregon, has been a major supplier of fentanyl to Grand Forks and other areas. Hubbard is facing several charges, including conspiracy to possess with intent to deliver controlled substances resulting in death.

Hubbard has been in custody for nearly two months and is awaiting his first appearance in North Dakota. He has not yet entered a plea and his lawyer in Oregon has declined to comment.

"When you can get these drugs off the Web, I think it's pretty hard to narrow it down to a single supplier," Johnson said. "You take one of them out and 10 of them take their place."

The police notice in January came a few months after the last of 15 defendants was sentenced for providing synthetic hallucinogens that led to the deaths of two Grand Forks-area teenagers. In that case, a Grand Forks man who described himself as a hobby chemist cooked up chemicals he bought online from a Texas company.

Johnson believes there are many other overdoses that police don't know about.

"For those reasons, I think we're only seeing the tip of the iceberg as to what's happening," he said.

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