Over the past year, doctors have seen an increase in patients coming into emergency rooms due to what seem like heroin overdoses. However, there is a new player on the drug market that is responsible for many of these overdoses and its name is fentanyl, which is 40 to 50 times more potent than pure heroin. The drug is most commonly used as anesthetic by doctors, and is also prescribed in patch-form for long-term pain relief. However, drug dealers are often times cutting their heroin packs with fentanyl (commonly referred to on the street as “China White), or serving straight up fentanyl as heroin to unsuspecting users. It can also come in pill form, disguised as oxycodone, or in the form of a lollipop.
According to Homeland Security Today, heroin is entering the United States at the Southwest Border more than ever before. In 2015, authorities have seized 6,000 pounds of dope there so far, a 23% increase. An uptick in fentanyl has also been noted by Homeland Security:
At the same time, DEA has become increasingly concerned about Fentanyl, a Schedule II drug that is 25 to 40 times more potent than heroin and presents a serious increased risk of overdose death for a heroin user. It can be absorbed by the skin or inhaled. The Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico is the biggest producer, clandestinely, of Fentanyl.
Also on the streets is fentanyl relative, acetyl fentanyl, which is weaker than fentanyl, but anywhere from 15 to 40 times more potent than heroin. Unlike fentanyl, acetyl fentanyl is a Schedule I designer drug, with no documented medical uses. Dealers sometimes enjoy an “analog loophole” when it comes to acetyl fentanyl. VICE sites medical paper, Annals of Emergency Medicine:
Currently, as a fentanyl analog, the drug enjoys a “not-for-human-consumption” exemption, a particular grey area that keeps the drug from the same kinds of controls as heroin itself. “Clever and well-informed drug distribution networks will likely take advantage of the ‘analogue loophole,’” the paper warns. “They may profit, in terms of decreased legal repercussions, from replacing or cutting a highly regulated drug with acetyl fentanyl.”
Heroin users will shoot up a dose of fentanyl or acetyl fentanyl (or dope cut with the painkillers) without even knowing, and OD. Doctors commonly treat these users with opioid overdose antidote, naxolone, thinking they are dealing with heroin use, to no avail.
On Tuesday, Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker signed a law making fentanyl trafficking a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison in the state. With addicts seemingly dropping like flies across the nations, more states are expected to follow suit.