The Dangerous Rise of Fentanyl

FentanylFentanyl has become a significant problem over the last couple of years to the point that it’s been asked, “is Fentanyl the New Heroin?”.  But what is Fentanyl?  Is it as deadly or even deadlier than heroin?  Where does it come from?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate created by Belgian doctor Paul Janssen during the 1960s. While fentanyl is chemically similar to natural opiates such as heroin or opium, fentanyl is completely man made substance, which means it is actually an opioid. All of these substances, whether completely man made (opioid) or naturally occurring (opiate), are referred to as narcotics. The word narcotic is from the Greek narkotikon, which means to “be numb. Fentanyl is a schedule II drug in the United States. Quantities larger than 10 grams on a first offense can result in a penalty of five years as well as large fines.  Larger quantities and a number of offenses significantly raise both potential incarceration and the judicial fine amount.

Historically, natural opioids have been produced for medicinal reasons, due to advancements in synthetic drug production. Fentanyl became used in a similar manner to its natural predecessors, analgesic for terminally ill patients requiring palliative care Trump plans ‘major briefing’ on opioid crisis. Fentanyl Patch, Transdermal 72 Hours. It was administered intravenously in hospitals until the 1990s, due to changes in the pharmaceutical market it was deemed more cost effective to produce Fentanyl in patch form for patients

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is the little-known but deadly drug that killed Prince. Illicit trade of Fentanyl began according to the DEA occurred due to fraudulent prescriptions and theft.

From 2005 until 2007 there was a sharp rise in both the fatalities from Fentanyl overdoses and police arrests of the narcotic. At the time it was understand that the proliferation of Fentanyl illicit trade was due to a single production center in Toluca, Mexico operated by cartels until it was shut down by the DEA in 2016. Fentanyl is extremely dangerous and it has been stated to be 50 times more potent than heroin. Due to the narcotics fatality the DEA issued a nationwide alert about Fentanyl in March 2015 after more than 700 overdose deaths were linked to the drug in late 2013 and 2014 America’s new deadliest drug is Fentanyl. A cause for the rise include dangers of mixing Fentanyl with other depressants notably alcohol and benzodiazepines.

The rise in Fentanyl Use

There is no one single cause for the rise of Fentanyl, like many illicit drugs its rise is due to a myriad of societal and cultural factors, below are listed points of some of the main reasons cited.

Mexican Cartels

Mexican Cartel FentanylThe rise in power cartels from Mexico established from the illicit trade of drugs such as cocaine and heroin from the 1980s gave huge profits which were used to strengthen their hold on the region and infrastructure. The reason why Fentanyl is now produced on mass by cartels is due to the high profit margins in the selling and distribution in the narcotic, due to its potency 1 kilogram can fetch more than $1 million on the retail drug market, which as a result makes Fentanyl one of the most profitable drugs the for cartels. Ease of production, unlike other high earning illicit drugs such as heroin and cocaine which require natural cultivation in specific conditions, Fentanyl is a synthetic drug which can be produced cheaper in higher quantities by chemists within cartels, as long as there are the precursor chemicals.

Changes in technology in particular the dark web has allowed cartels to establish distribution of the required chemicals from China and although there has been a high level of cooperation between US and Chinese authorities cartels are still receiving chemical shipments due to molecular changes bypassing laws.

Changes in US law

In 2014 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that there had been over 47,000 opioid-related deaths which as a consequence led to stricter regulations on the legal opioid market which made heroin more accessible to drug users. However it has been found that drug producers would often cut drugs such as heroin with Fentanyl in order to heighten effects while reducing costs.

Fentanyl Future

Recent seizures of counterfeit opioid tablets have revealed the presence of Fentanyl and have led to multiple overdoses and deaths. In response to the growing trend of fatalities from Fentanyl, US states are improving access to Narcan (Naloxone), a drug that can reverse opioid overdoses, and creating good samaritan laws, so those reporting an overdose won’t be charged. However public health and drug policy experts are warning that the only way to successfully combat the growing epidemic of opioid and Fentanyl abuse in America is by greater education, drug treatment programs that encourage opiate detox.

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Written by Sophie Jenkins, Guest Blogger for Kill the Heroin Epidemic Nationwide™, Heroin News, and the National Alliance of Addiction Treatment Centers (NAATC)

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