Family, Friends Mourn Deaths Linked to Fentanyl-Laced Pills in San Joaquin County

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It’s through their grief that two Manteca families are united.

"We never expected anything like this to happen,” said Angelo Rubio, a Manteca resident whose cousin died.

"These pills are out here, and they’re real, and they’re killing people,” said Marinda Conway, whose friend died.

Through their pain, they’re sending out a warning to others who might be popping the street version of the prescription painkiller Norco.

“Mostly angry that… that somebody would lace a pill with something that can kill somebody like this,” Conway said.

"Watch out, know what they’re taking 'cause stuff like this happens. Didn’t think it could happen until it happens to somebody close to you,” Anthony Rubio said.

While there are no confirmed deaths in San Joaquin County, the sheriff’s department said they’ve seen the toll the illegal drug can take.

A spokesman with the sheriff’s department said they’ve had a number of overdoses in the emergency room since November. In March so far, they’ve had 20 overdoses.

Anthony and Angelo Rubio lost their 20-year-old cousin Benjamin “Benny” Villanueva last Thursday after he took a black market Norco pill.

“He was one of a kind. You can’t really replace Benny,” Angelo said.

The Manteca Police Department said they won’t know for weeks what killed Villanueva, but Angelo believes it was a street drug.

“We used to do them together,” Angelo admitted.

Marinda Conway also lost someone dear to her. Her friend David Alfaro last Friday.

"I just feel like it’s not real. Like I’ll never see him again,” she told FOX40.

When he died, Conway explained, a bag of pills made out to look like Norco were found. Friends came forward and told her he had purchased the pills from the streets to deal with his ongoing leg pain.

"They’re (drug dealers) killing people, it’s murder. It’s not an overdose. It’s murder,” Conway said.

Both families are finding it difficult to move on.

"I can’t even begin to think of my life without Dave. We’ve been together so long,” Conway explained.

As for Angelo, he said his cousin’s death has been an eye-opener. He doesn’t want to abuse prescription drugs anymore.

FOX40 also reached out to the San Joaquin County Health Department and they said they have no known confirmed death cases relating to Norco so far. Conway said Alfaro’s toxicology results will take weeks.