Like morphine, fentanyl is a drug used to treat patients with severe pain, especially after surgery. Developed in 1959, the drug is used to relieve people suffering from chronic pain and who have become tolerant to other opioids. Compared to morphine, fentanyl is 50 to 100 times stronger. A drug that has made its way into the illegal drug market, reigning havoc on its path.
Fentanyl can be used as a patch placed on a patient’s skin, given as a shot, or as lozenges sucked like cough drops. The fentanyl used illegally is made in labs, and its synthetic form is sold in powder form, placed in eye droppers and nasal sprays, or even made to look like prescription drugs.
Illicitly made fentanyl is mixed with other drugs such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA. Drug lacing fentanyl increases the level of high induced by the drug—an option preferred for its cost-effectiveness.
Therefore, drug users using other drugs such as cocaine or amphetamines are at an increased risk of dying from a fentanyl overdose. According to DEA laboratory testing, four out of 10 fentanyl-laced fake pills contain a potentially lethal dose.
“Drug dealers are maximizing their profits by lacing or contaminating drugs like heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine with fentanyl. By doing that they are making them much more powerful and this is at the essence of the most challenging problems that we have,” Dr. Nora Volkow told the USA today.
According to a public safety alert from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, a fatal dose of fentanyl is small enough to fit on the tip of a pencil. Moreover, the number of fake pills containing fentanyl has jumped nearly 430 percent since 2019.
Because of this illegally manufactured fentanyl, more than 1,300 people die per week from opioid-related overdoses—fentanyl accounting for the majority of these deaths. A number that shot even higher when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
In 2020, more than 93,000 people died last year from a drug overdose. Marking a record increase of 30 percent from 2019- with 20,000 more deaths than 2019, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control.
“Opioids were responsible for nearly three quarters of the more than 93,000 fatal drug overdoses in the United States in 2020,” said Deputy Attorney General Monaco said after the seizure of historic amounts of fentanyl.
2021 is also on the track of setting a new record, with overdose deaths hitting a new record in the U.S., hitting 96,779 from March 2020 to March 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—a number expected to get to almost 100,000 before the year ends.
The drug is claiming the lives of people we know, family, and even celebrities—Comedian Fuquan Johnson, the 16-year-old “Flash” actor Logan Williams and “The Wire’s Michael K. Williams.
Previously, opioid deaths have been concentrated in 28 states east of the Mississippi River, but ten western states saw a 98 percent increase in synthetic opioid overdoses in the same time frame, the CDC reported. This increase was consistent with greater fentanyl and positive fentanyl toxicology drug tests administered during COVID-19 the pandemic.
“The pervasiveness of these illicit drugs, and the fatal overdoses that too often result, is a problem that cuts across America from small towns to big cities and everything in between,” said Deputy Monaco.
According to data from CPB, the amount of fentanyl seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection has increased by 51.45 percent in the first months of 2020, compared to 2020.
“The department will continue to use all of the resources at its disposal to save lives, complementing strong enforcement efforts with public awareness and outreach campaigns, as well,” Monaco added.
On August 3, the DEA launched a nationwide law enforcement effort to address the alarming increase in the availability and lethality of fentanyl-dosed fake fentanyl pills.