Last week, the federal government announced one of the largest fentanyl drug busts ever, containing 254 pounds of the synthetic drug.
The bust occurred at the Nogales, Arizona border onboard a truck that hid the pills under cucumbers. Alongside the powerful opioid, there was also 354 pounds of methamphetamine. Both drugs have been on the rise in America the past few years, with fentanyl deaths outpacing other opioid deaths rapidly. At its current pace, according to US Customs and Border Control, the opioid epidemic kills ninety people a day.
The fentanyl in the seizure is valued $3.5 million and is twice the size of a haul discovered in a truck stopped by state troopers in Nebraska in 2017.
Fentanyl is quickly becoming one of the deadliest opioids in the United States, and it often comes to the US via China, passing through US Customs undetected. Last year, the opioid task force recommended that Congress fund new machines for the United States Postal Service that detect drugs. The majority of international drug traffickers send shipments of pills through mail services, but drugs like methamphetamine typically come through the US/Mexico border.
Fentanyl is a drug that has been found not only in pill form but also powdered form, which could easily kill a non-opioid user exposed to it. Fentanyl is at least fifty times stronger than morphine, a highly potent narcotic. When handling drugs like these, police officers have to use gloves and sometimes have to cover their mouths and arms to decrease their risk of exposure. Most first responders in America now keep a steady supply of Narcan, an opioid antagonist, on hand to deal with accidental exposure or overdoses. The US Customs and Border Patrol even describes taking precautions for their K-9 units, who have long been at risk of overdose due to the nature of their jobs. (A drug-sniffing dog often sticks its snout near loose drug powder or pills.)
The US Border Patrol stops drug traffickers almost every day of the week. Drugs often come through regular checkpoints, and large amounts of drugs come through trucks and cars.
In Maryland, the government has been doing its best to fight the addiction crisis, but they’re not yet winning: in 2017, the number of fatal overdoses increased 9%. Most of these overdoses (90%) were considered to be opioid-induced, with Fentanyl overdoses increased by 42 percent last year, rising from 1,119 in 2016 to 1,594. Fentanyl is a drug that is 50 times stronger than heroin and is typically used in a medical setting. When added to other street drugs, it can be deadly, especially if novice opioid users are taking the drug. In Maryland, they have discovered that a fentanyl-cocaine combination of drugs is causing deaths. Between 2015 and 2016, cocaine deaths doubled because of this lethal combination.
The Maryland Department of Health Secretary Rober R. Neall called the increase in fentanyl-related deaths “staggering.” Officials think that the overdose deaths of cocaine containing fentanyl were accidental; the user may have had no clue that the two drugs were combined. Over 71% of cocaine deaths in 2017 was due to the fatal combination.
These deaths did not seem to have anything in common other than they were accidental. State officials say that the increase in cocaine deaths took place across demographics, affecting all age groups and both genders almost equally.
Heroin overdose deaths have also been decreased in the last year. In 2016, they had amounted to 58% of overdose deaths in the state.
In 2017, the amount of drug fatalities hit an all-time high in Maryland, although the actual increase in drug deaths was just 9%. This number compares to a 66% increase from 2016 to 2017. So it’s possible that efforts to combat fatal overdoses are working. One way the state is helping prevent these overdoses is via Narcan, an opioid antagonist that can help reverse overdoses. They are available both to first responders as well as over-the-counter for residents that have taken the training online.
Canada has been recently inundated with Fentanyl, which is an incredibly potent opiate painkiller that is very popular with those addicted to narcotics.
Recently, one article in particular seems to encapsulate how serious the problem is: A Killer High: How Canada Got Addicted to Fentanyl.
This article chronicles the pain suffered by the survivors of those who overdose, and also features excellent reporting about how easy it is to obtain the drug online.
This past weekend two people died, and a third almost succumbed to a fatal overdose one in a separate incident almost died. The city of Banff in Canada had just recently released in the local paper “Bannffshire Journal” a warning of the dangers of a synthetic drug being passed of as heroin.
The Bannffshire Journal highlighted and put out the warning because of a man that was found dead from overdose by using the synthetic heroin. Investigation on the two male deaths, are uncertain whether the synthetic drug was involved.
“We would remind those in our communities who use heroin of the inherent dangers associated with taking any form of controlled drug. This has sadly become all too evident given the tragic loss of life in the Banff area over the past few days.” said Inspector Andy Imray, Grampian Police substance misuse coordinator.
Fentanyl is a powerful prescription drug that is used to manage pain. This synthetic opiate analgesic is prescribed to people who have just had surgery or who suffer from chronic pain. It may also be given to people who have demonstrated tolerance to other opiates. Fentanyl is similar to morphine but is about 80 times more potent.
The Dangers of Fentanyl Abuse
The U.S. Department of Justice classifies Fentanyl as a Schedule II drug, meaning it has a high tendency for abuse. This prescription drug has not received as much focus has other painkillers like OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet, but it is just as dangerous. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, illicit use of Fentanyl has been a problem since the mid-1970s.
In prescription form, Fentanyl is sold under the names Actiq, Sublimaze, Isntanyl and Duragesic. On the street, it is referred to by a variety of names including Apache, China White, China Girl, Apache, Friend, Dance Fever, TNT, Murder 8, Tango and Cash. The street form of Fentanyl is often produced in clandestine labs and mixed with other drugs like heroin or cocaine. The biological effects of street versions of Fentanyl are indistinguishable from heroin, but they may be hundreds of times more potent. Fentanyl is addictive and deadly.