The Deadly Fentanyl Epidemic: Hidden in Plain Sight

How well do you really know your drug dealer? More importantly, how much do you trust them?

Whether you are buying benzodiazepines on the streets or powdered heroin, take a moment to ask yourself how well you know your dealer – and how much you trust him or her. When you go and pick up drugs, do you ever consider where exactly your dealer got them from in the first place? And, who had their hands on the drugs before that?

The truth is, when you are buying drugs on the streets, it is nearly impossible to know exactly what you are getting. Your dealer may claim you are buying the purest heroin around – and they may fully believe that. However, the person they bought the heroin from could have easily cut the substance with something cheaper and more deadly, such as fentanyl.

Unfortunately, drugs laced with fentanyl are a major health concern today. It is not only what people often consider “hard” drugs, like heroin and cocaine, either. Experts have reportedly found fentanyl in all kinds of street pills, ranging from counterfeit Xanax to Percocet.[1] These pills look, feel, smell, and taste like the real thing – but hidden in the mixture is a potent and deadly killer.

What is Fentanyl and Why is it so Dangerous?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid drug that is 50 times more potent than heroin and up to 100 times more potent than morphine, making it one of the most powerful opioid drugs. The substance can be deadly in even the smallest of doses. Pharmaceutical fentanyl is approved for treating severe pain, particularly in cancer patients. It is often prescribed in the form of a lozenge or transdermal patch.[2] However, fentanyl is also diverted for misuse and sold illegally on the streets.

Fentanyl is much cheaper than other synthetic opioids. As a result, drug manufacturers and dealers may mix fentanyl with other substances to decrease the price of their product and increase their profits. Unfortunately, they often do so without informing their customers, resulting in people unknowingly taking and overdosing on fentanyl.

Substances that may be cut with fentanyl include:

  • Heroin
  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamine
  • Counterfeit Xanax or other benzodiazepines
  • Counterfeit opioids like Percocet or Oxycodone

On rare occasions, fentanyl has even been found on marijuana.

Overdose Deaths Due to Drugs Laced With Fentanyl Increased During The Pandemic

According to a report released by NPR, synthetic opioid overdose deaths rose by nearly 55% in the twelve months preceding September 2020. Deaths by methamphetamine and other illicit stimulants also rose by 46%. Both of these tragic statistics are thought to be linked to fentanyl contamination and an increase in substance abuse as a result of the pandemic.[3]

In the last year, many counties and states nationwide have been plagued by an increase in fentanyl-related overdose deaths. For example, San Diego County in California saw 15 fentanyl-related fatalities at the beginning of 2019, but in the same period in 2020, officials report over 203 fentanyl-related deaths.[4]

Many of these deaths are reported in young people who took a counterfeit pill they believed was something else, which turned out to contain fentanyl.

In a press release from the DEA, United States Attorney Robert Brewer explains, “While buyers may think they’re getting cocaine, oxy or Xanax, in reality, they’re playing a high stakes game of Russian roulette…When it comes to fentanyl, there’s no truth in advertising and you can forget about quality control. Hundreds of unknowing buyers end up ingesting a deadly dose of fentanyl.”

How to Avoid Counterfeit Pills and Other Substances That May Be Laced With Fentanyl

Counterfeit pills usually look very similar to the real thing. However, fake pills may be slightly off in color, feel rough around the edges, or have a misspelling in the imprint. They may also be cheaper than the real thing. There may also be variations in size, weight, or texture.

With that being said, you may come across pills laced with fentanyl that look very genuine. There may be no way for you to tell the difference. These are circumstances where you should either abstain from using drugs completely or use fentanyl test strips to identify the presence of fentanyl in your drugs. These test strips can help prevent overdoses by informing users of how potent their drugs really are.[5]

While fentanyl test strips are able to detect fentanyl, they are not always able to detect fentanyl-analogs, such as carfentanil, sufentanil, and U-47700 (Pink). As a result, it is always important to use caution when taking a substance and carry naloxone (Narcan) at all times.

Test strips can help prevent some fentanyl overdoses, but they are not a fool-proof way of detecting counterfeit and dangerous substances. In the end, the only way to prevent an overdose completely is to abstain from drugs and get help overcoming addiction.



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