Illicitly manufactured fentanyl is a key factor driving opioid overdose deaths, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Fentanyl and similar drugs, such as carfentanil, are increasingly contributing to a complex illegal opioid market with significant public health implications, the CDC said. The CDC analyzed toxicology reports from almost 5,200 fatal opioid overdoses in 10 states between July and December 2016. They found fentanyl and similar drugs were directly responsible for more than half of the opioid overdose deaths, HealthDay reports. In most cases, fentanyl or similar drugs were mixed into heroin, often without the knowledge of the people who overdosed. In almost half of fatal overdoses involving fentanyl, the drugs were injected. Fatal overdoses also occurred when drugs were swallowed or snorted, the CDC said.
The U.S. Justice Department announced charges against two Chinese nationals who sold fentanyl online to American customers, The Washington Post reports. The men are the first Chinese-based fentanyl manufacturers and distributors to be designated as Consolidated Priority Organization Targets, which the Justice Department considers to be among the most significant drug trafficking threats in the world. According to the Justice Department, one of the men operated websites that sold fentanyl directly to American customers. He also ran at least two chemical plants in China capable of producing tons of fentanyl and fentanyl analogues. The other man ran at least four fentanyl labs in China. He also advertised and sold fentanyl online. The article notes it is unclear if the men could ever be brought to the United States to face charges.
The opioid crisis is being fueled by anonymous online sales on the dark web, where buyers purchase fentanyl and other drugs using special browsers and virtual currencies such as Bitcoin, The New York Times reports. Law enforcement officials say Internet sales of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl are on the rise. They are frustrated in their attempts to crack down on these sales because of their anonymous nature. Enough fentanyl to get almost 50,000 people high can fit into a standard first-class envelope, the article notes. A leading dark web site, AlphaBay, last week had more than 21,000 listings for opioids and more than 4,100 for fentanyl and similar drugs. The number of fentanyl listings on AlphaBay and other dark web sites has been steadily increasing.
A police officer in Ohio accidentally overdosed on fentanyl while on the job, NBC News reports. He was recovering, but reportedly “still miserable” several days later. Patrolman Chris Green was at the police station after having searched the car of two suspected drug dealers. A colleague pointed out some white powder on Green’s shirt. Green brushed it off with his bare hand. About an hour later, he passed out. It took four doses of the opioid overdose antidote naloxone (Narcan) to revive him, the article notes. According to East Liverpool Police Chief John Lane, Green had used gloves and a mask to search the car, but had taken them off before he brushed the powder off. “He did this without thinking,” Lane said. “I’m not sure he even realized this was drugs.”
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is reporting a strain of fentanyl, resistant to the opioid overdose antidote naloxone, has caused several overdose deaths in Western Pennsylvania. The strain of fentanyl resistant to naloxone is called acryl fentanyl, KDKA reports. “If acryl fentanyl is introduced into the population, it can have devastating effects,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge, David Battiste. The DEA said acryl fentanyl is being manufactured overseas, smuggled into the United States, and sold mainly on the dark web. It comes in powder form, and looks similar to fentanyl. “These are dangerous drugs. They’re cut by these dealers who don’t care about anything other than making a profit. It can be cut with anything,” Battiste said.
Fentanyl, the opioid that is up to 50 times as potent as heroin, is presenting law enforcement with complex challenges, according to Richard Baum, Acting Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. In a letter to U.S. House legislators, Baum said fentanyl is coming into the country from an array of sources, The Wall Street Journal reports. He called fentanyl “an urgent public health threat.” Just 2 milligrams of powdered fentanyl can be deadly. Authorities seized at least 668 kilograms of fentanyl last year—enough to kill every American. Seizures of fentanyl in liquid and pill form have also been increasing.
Every day, 91 Americans fatally overdose on an opioid drug. It may be a prescription analgesic or heroin—4-8 percent of people who misuse painkillers transition to heroin—but increasingly it is likely to be heroin’s much more potent synthetic cousin fentanyl. In the space of only two years, fentanyl has tragically escalated the opioid crisis. This drug is 50-100 times more potent than morphine and able to enter the brain especially quickly because of its high fat solubility; just 2 milligrams can kill a person, and emergency personnel who touch or breathe it may even be put in danger. Unfortunately, many people addicted to opioids as well as other drugs like cocaine are accidentally being poisoned by fentanyl-laced products. Although fentanyl is a medicine prescribed for post-surgical pain and palliative care, most of the fentanyl responsible for this surge of deaths is made illicitly in China and imported to the U.S....
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers are seizing a record number of pill presses used to make counterfeit drugs, CNN reports. Pill presses allow someone to take powder and press it into a pill. Most of the pill press machines come from China, the article notes. Much of the illegal fentanyl that is coming into the country also comes from China. The presses are being used to mix fentanyl with drugs such as oxycodone or Xanax. These counterfeit pills can be deadly. “People have died from ingesting what they think is a legitimate painkiller, (but really) it’s a counterfeit pill that contains fentanyl,” said John Martin, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s San Francisco division. “To the naked eye, you can’t tell the difference. If you have counterfeit pills, you can’t make them without pill presses.”
A hospital in New Haven, Connecticut treated 12 people who overdosed last June when they used fentanyl that had been sold as cocaine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Three of the people died. Fentanyl is an opioid that can be 50 times as strong as heroin, ABC News reports. Many fentanyl overdoses occur when the drug is sold as heroin, oxycodone or other opioids. A rapid response from public health officials and police may have saved lives, the CDC noted. Paramedics were equipped with additional naloxone, the opioid overdose antidote. Officials traced back the source of the drugs, issued a public service announcement and gave out naloxone to families and friends of people known to use opioids.
Drug deaths from fentanyl and other synthetic opioids rose 72 percent from 2014 to 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report. New York experienced the greatest rise in synthetic opioid deaths, with a 135.7 percent increase. Other states with large increases included Connecticut (125.9 percent) and Illinois (120 percent). The CDC says 33,091 people died from overdoses of illicit and prescription opioid painkillers in 2015, according to CNN . Opioid overdoses account for 63 percent of drug overdose deaths in 2015, up from 61 percent in 2014. “Too many Americans are feeling the devastation of the opioid crisis either from misuse of prescription opioids or use of illicit opioids,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a news release. “Urgent action is needed to help health care providers treat pain safely and treat opioid use disorder effectively, support law enforcement strategies to reduce the availability of illicit opiates,...