A growing number of drug overdose deaths are due to cocaine laced with fentanyl, NPR reports. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), 7 percent of cocaine seized in New England in 2017 included fentanyl, up from 4 percent the previous year. In Connecticut, the number of deaths involving fentanyl-laced cocaine has increased 420 percent in the last three years. Massachusetts officials say an increasing amount of fentanyl-laced cocaine is changing hands on the streets. The DEA, in its National Drug Threat Assessment, says people typically add fentanyl to cocaine for the purpose of “speedballing,” which combines the rush of cocaine with a drug that depresses the nervous system, such as heroin. Some experts told NPR fentanyl may be mixed with cocaine accidentally during packaging. Others say drug cartels are adding fentanyl to cocaine to expand the market of people who are addicted to opioids.
It is well known that deaths associated with the abuse of substances structurally related to fentanyl in the United States are on the rise and have already reached alarming levels. While a number of factors appear to be contributing to this public health crisis, chief among the causes is the sharp increase in recent years in the availability of illicitly produced, potent substances structurally related to fentanyl. Fentanyl is approximately 100 times more potent than morphine, and the substances structurally related to fentanyl that DEA is temporarily controlling also tend to be potent substances. Typically, these substances are manufactured outside the United States by clandestine manufacturers and then smuggled into the United States. As a result, the Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration has issued a temporary scheduling order to schedule fentanyl-related substances that are not currently listed in any schedule of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and their isomers, esters,...
More than a dozen people who used fentanyl, either alone or in combination with stimulants, have suffered severe memory loss, researchers from West Virginia University report. These cases involved severe short-term memory loss, HealthDay reports. Imaging scans revealed the patients had lesions on the hippocampus, a region of the brain associated with memory. The patients did not recovery quickly, and may never fully regain their short-term memory, according to lead researcher Marc Haut. “They all have difficulty learning new information, and it’s pretty dense,” Haut said. “Every day is pretty much a new day for them, and sometimes within a day they can’t maintain information they’ve learned.” He added, “Based upon the imaging, I would be surprised if they didn’t have at least some significant memory problems permanently.” The findings are published in the Annals of Internal Medicine
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will classify illicit versions of fentanyl at the same level as heroin, Reuters reports. The action will make it easier for federal prosecutors and agents to prosecute traffickers of all forms of fentanyl-related substances, the agency said. Legally prescribed fentanyl is classified as a Schedule II drug, which means it is highly addictive but has a medical purpose. The new DEA order classifies illicit fentanyl as a Schedule I drug, along with heroin. Schedule I drugs are considered addictive, with no medicinal purpose. The DEA order will last up to two years, with a possibility of a one-year extension if certain conditions are met. In a statement, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “By scheduling all fentanyls, we empower our law enforcement officers and prosecutors to take swift and necessary action against those spreading these deadly poisons. I also urge the many members of Congress who...
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.