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Authorities confirm fentanyl at scene of Wednesday's call to Brighton Towers

A car is parked at the entrance of two high rise apartment buildings.
Isaiah Vazquez
Brighton Towers, where firefighters responded to a hazmat incident Wednesday, offers housing to seniors.

Syracuse Fire Chief Michael Monds confirmed fentanyl was the substance in question in Wednesday’s unknown hazardous material call to Brighton Towers. Two people died and others fell ill in the incident. The two deceased had overdosed on what seemed to be a mixture of heroin and fentanyl, says Upstate Medical University Associate Professor and Chair of Emergency Medicine William Paolo.

During a press conference, Monds confirmed the presence of only the one substance.

“Our Syracuse Fire Department hazmat team has confirmed this morning that the substance fentanyl was found on the scene," Monds said. "The confirmation comes from the New York State Police team that was tasked with cleanup after our hazardous materials operation.”

Two men stand behind a podium with two flags in the background.
Andrew MacBeath
Syracuse Fire Chief Michael Monds (left) and Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh held a briefing at city hall, Mar. 2, 2023.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid and often found adulterated with other elements. Authorities think xylazine, a potent animal tranquilizer, was also involved, but that has yet to be confirmed. Xylazine made headlines earlier this week when the Food and Drug Administration announced it will crack down on the illegal importation of the substance. Additionally, more than 40 confirmed overdoses were reported this past weekend in Syracuse.

Dr. Sarah Mahonski from Upstate New York Poison Center says xylazine looks similar to opioids and is likely added to drugs to increase a user’s high.

“We definitely know that xylazine, which is a veterinary sedative, has started to contaminate the drug supply," Mahonski said. "I think, knowing that it's in the drug supply, and there were some patients who did overdose, thinking that they had used heroin, I think it's likely that the people who are using drugs were probably exposed to xylazine. None of that's confirmed yet.”

Upstate doctors responded to the incident with a toxicological team because initially, it was thought first responders were endangered by the hazardous substance. Paolo says about 10 people were treated for symptoms, but says he cannot confirm if their symptoms were directly associated with fentanyl.

Mahonski believes this was unlikely.

“There was some concern that other people at the scene may have been exposed," Mahonski said. "I don't know that that's confirmed. And I would say it's less likely that there was any true exposure to xylazine by first responders and by hospital employees.”

If there's a suspicion that someone is overdosing, Mahonski advises to call 911. If someone is having mild symptoms or has general questions, call the Upstate New York Poison Center at (800) 222-1222, a free government resource available 24 hours a day.

Andrew MacBeath is a digital content editor at WAER.
Isabel Flores is a graduate student studying Broadcast and Digital Journalism at Syracuse University’s S.I. School of Public Communications, expected to graduate in May of 2023. As a multimedia reporter, she helps to present as well as produce audio and digital content for WAER. In her free time, Isabel enjoys working out and listening to all genres of music.
Ashley Kang is a content producer for WAER 88.3 FM under Syracuse University’s Newhouse School. She supports the station with community-driven story ideas; planning of the monthly public affairs show; Syracuse Speak; and the launch of an education beat.