Heroin and opioids have been the drugs given the most attention and press coverage in the last couple of years. The death of Prince in 2016 turned attention to fentanyl and its dangers. Soon fentanyl became the number one synthetic opioid drug killer not only in the US but all over the world. It is the most dangerous drug to emerge in decades. Now in states all over the country, particularly the northeast, fentanyl-laced cocaine has become the number one cause of overdoses.
Fentanyl was introduced in the 1960’s and has been prescribed to help people suffering from cancer or extreme pain. Under a doctor’s supervision and in a controlled environment it has brought relief to many patients. However, in the last few years fentanyl has hit the streets and it is a powerful and dangerous drug. It is 80 to 100 times more potent than heroin and morphine and even a two-milligram dose can be fatal. With the rise of opioid abuse, came an increase in heroin abuse. As drug addicts became more tolerant to heroin, dealers began cutting it with fentanyl to deliver an even more potent high. Fentanyl is highly addictive and much cheaper to produce so it became a huge money maker for dealers. Now dealers get their fentanyl from China, Mexico and South America. It is made in lab in these countries and then sent to dealers and cartels in the United States.
Combining Fentanyl with Other Drugs
As abuse of opioids and heroin began to skyrocket fentanyl soon became the drug of choice amongst opioid-addicted users. With its potent high and low cost it has become the drug of choice for many users. It can be mixed with heroin to intensify the high, sometimes without the user even knowing they are taking it. Fentanyl is a white powder that can easily be cut into other drugs and go undetected. Most drug addicts take more than one type of drug and it is common to find more than one drug in the system of someone who overdoses. Fentanyl has been found in more overdose deaths than heroin. In Massachusetts, where fentanyl is the state’s biggest drug problem, 90% of overdose deaths involved fentanyl.
Law enforcement, hospitals and the DEA have found fentanyl increasingly showing up cocaine and methamphetamine. Users are unsuspecting of fentanyl in cocaine as they are two different types of drugs. Cocaine is a stimulant that increases alertness and energy, often used as a party drug. Fentanyl is a depressant that relaxes the nervous system. Combining a stimulant and a depressant is not a new concept. For decades people have been mixing cocaine with heroin creating what is called a ‘speedball.’ Its intent is that each drug cancels out the negative of the other and only the positive highs of each are achieved. Speedballing is dangerous enough when done with heroin but my adding fentanyl it is a recipe for disaster.
Many users of cocaine are recreational users and may only use it on special occasions. These users likely have no idea that the cocaine they are snorting, or smoking is laced with fentanyl. For the regular opioid addict fentanyl is dangerous but for someone who is unaccustomed to opioid they are much more likely to overdose. Fentanyl-laced cocaine is in essence merging two different types of drug communities. Heroin addicted users are more likely to carry naloxone to counteract an overdose where a cocaine user, especially one who does it recreationally, wouldn’t even think to have that with them. Naloxone is not used for a cocaine overdose, it’s designed as an antidote to reverse the effects of opioids. Now anyone who does cocaine is encouraged to have the antidote with them as more and more cocaine in laced with fentanyl and can cause instant overdose or death.
Why Add Fentanyl to Cocaine
Health officials, law enforcement and researchers aren’t positive as to why fentanyl is showing up in cocaine. There are two schools of thought on it.
The first reason is that dealers are doing it intentionally because fentanyl is so much cheaper to manufacture, and they can sell it for more money while giving it more kick. This also leads to the theory that since fentanyl is more addictive than cocaine that a typical cocaine user may increase their usage and create an addiction where they didn’t have one without the fentanyl.
The second theory is that it is done non-intentionally by drug dealers in cross-contamination. They may mix fentanyl and then mix cocaine in the same area with the same tools without cleaning up more carefully. This leads to the drugs being mixed together without knowledge by either party.
The Next Deadly Epidemic
Regardless of whether fentanyl is put into cocaine on purpose or not, the fact remains that it is happening and becoming the next deadly epidemic. Health officials are working with bars and restaurants to train employees on how to administer Naloxone in case of overdose while also alerting the public to the dangers of fentanyl and its presence in cocaine and other drugs. This new presence of fentanyl in non-opioids can quickly become the next deadly epidemic.
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