The fentanyl drug is a highly potent opioid, around 100 times more powerful than heroin. But unlike heroin or morphine, it is synthesized from chemicals in a lab rather than from naturally-occurring opium.
Overdoses have dramatically increased in recent months, because often, many users don’t realize what they are getting. They think they are taking heroin as usual, or even a prescription drug. But the fact is, just a small amount of pure fentanyl is enough to kill most users. If only they knew the powerful fentanyl drug had ended up in their bag of heroin, they might think twice about using.
For those of you who don’t remember, fentanyl is the drug responsible for the tragic and untimely death of the artist Prince back in April.
Fentanyl is a prescription drug, which is indicated for little use outside of anesthesia. But it’s not legal fentanyl that is usually ending up on the street – it’s fentanyl synthesized in clandestine labs in China that is the main culprit, according to the DEA.
The fentanyl is then shipped to Mexico, where the cartels lace it into heroin, or press it into tablets that look like painkillers or anti-anxiety medications. Then, the resulting drug mixture is shipped to dealers, or directly to would-be users, through what is known as the Internet’s darknet or dark web.
There is a reason why fentanyl has become so popular for use in drugs – it’s cheap to produce, and can go a long, long, way. According to the DEA, one kilogram of fentanyl costs about $3000-$4000 to produce, and can yield about $1.5 million.
Currently, the DEA has six agents operating out of Beijing who work with China’s Ministry of Public Security. Officials placed controls on 116 new chemicals last year, 19 of which have a similar molecular structure as fentanyl. This has helped reduced the supply of some of the drug’s analogs (drugs with a slightly different molecular structure.)
However, in effort to stay one step ahead of the legal system, both here and abroad, drug manufacturers continue to tweak the molecular structure of drugs as a means of circumventing the law. This creates a never ending battle for drug enforcement officials. Indeed, new synthetic drugs are being identified frequently.
The U.S. State Department is working, however, through with the United Nations to ensure police worldwide can identify new drugs and seek prosecution. To battle production, the State Department and a collection of U.S. senators have asked the U.N. to add two key ingredients used to make the fentanyl drug to the list of highly-controlled substances.
How To Protect Yourself Or Others
If you a heroin user, or loved one of a heroin user, seek a way to have the anti-overdose drug Narcan (naloxone) on hand. It is a antidote administered via injection or as a nasal spray.
While it is currently available only by prescription in some states, others allow dispensary by a pharmacist without a prescription. For more information about availability, visit Narcan’s website.
Keep in mind that while naloxone has saved thousands of lives by effectively reversing overdoses related to opioids, fentanyl is so powerful, that multiple doses of the drug may be required to save a life. Fentanyl is responsible for overdoses of individuals who have been using heroin for many years.
Currently, heroin users are playing Russian roulette, so to speak, by not knowing what they are getting in their drug of choice. There is no way to discern the difference between heroin and fentanyl from a user standpoint. Often, that determination is made far too late, such as after an autopsy.
And please, please do not purchase drugs on the darknet. A drug purchased on the Internet is even more of a wild card than buying as usual on the street.
Finally, carfentanil, a cousin of fentanyl but 100 times more powerful, has also been responsible for multiple deaths in areas such as Ohio and Canada. It is used to sedate large animals such as elephants, and is not indicated for use on humans. Even minor, incidental skin contact with the drug may be enough to cause a deadly overdose.
Drug Use Statistics
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 78 Americans die every day from an overdose. Another 580 will try heroin (or what may be heroin) for the first time.
In 2014, more than 28,000 Americans lost their lives to opioid drugs, including heroin, fentanyl, and prescription painkillers. The number of drug overdoses quadrupled between 1999-2014.
An estimated 75%-80% of new heroin users first became addicted to prescription painkillers. Patients may switch to heroin when they can no longer afford or obtain prescriptions for their drug of choice, which may include oxycodone, vicodin, hydrocodone, and others.