Most people have at least a passing acquaintance with Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid used to treat severe and chronic pain in the United States. Fewer are aware of its dark history of abuse on the streets, both used for injection by addicts and used to cut other more expensive drugs by dealers.
Fentanyl is typically available cheaply compared to opioids like Heroin and cocaine. While usually manufactured overseas in China, its potency means that it’s easy to import in smaller batches, making it easier and therefore more cost effective to hide. As a result, it’s been used to cut Heroin for nearly a decade, reducing costs for dealers, while improving the potency and addictiveness of the drug. Fentanyl-lacing is also linked to overdoses in anywhere from 11-40% of all heroin-overdose deaths, simply because at as much as 100x the strength, heroin users often overdose.
Now, Fentanyl is increasingly found in non-opioid drugs, primarily in cocaine. This often-deadly mixture is sold to unsuspecting users, many of whom are casual users going to clubs or parties. As a result, Fentanyl-related overdoses are on the rise, with a more than 540% increase in 3 years.
If you or a loved one use, you should be concerned.
Fentanyl Used to Cut Other Drugs
In June of 2017, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued a warning after finding that 37% of drug overdose-related deaths in New York during the year involved a mix of cocaine and fentanyl. Since then, Fentanyl-laced cocaine has been found in other states, including Tennessee. Some officials estimate that nation-wide, Fentanyl-laced drugs are related to nearly 11% of all non-fentanyl drug overdoses, despite fentanyl lacing affecting less than 1% of total cocaine sold.
Why? Drugs like fentanyl are frequently cut into drugs without the user’s knowledge, and at up to 100 times stronger, fentanyl and its analogues must be used with caution. Some fentanyl analogues are even stronger than fentanyl itself, which can cause overdoses at even tiny doses. Users who believe they’re taking cocaine will ingest up to a gram a night, but even a few hundred micrograms of fentanyl can push them over the edge into overdose.
Fentanyl Responsible for 20,000 Overdoses in 2016
In 2016, 64,000 people died of a drug overdose. At a 22% increase over 2015, that number is extremely high – but with 22,000 deaths related to fentanyl, most of the blame lies on one drug. Comparatively, 15,400 people died of a heroin overdose in the same period, and 7,660 from methamphetamines. Fentanyl-related drug overdose deaths have increased by 540% since 2014 largely due to an increase in street and illicit usage, as opioids like morphine and OxyContin become more difficult to acquire. Rising prices also lead many to seek out cheaper alternatives, and at up to 100 times the strength of morphine, fentanyl offers addicts a cheaper high.
However, buying drugs like Fentanyl on the street is dangerous. Many dealers sell Fentanyl as well as its analogs like 3R and 4S, which can be 30 times as potent as fentanyl itself. Taking a safe dose of these drugs can be impossible with fatal dose sometimes as low as 160 micrograms.
Why Would Dealers Cut Fentanyl into Cocaine?
There are few reasons for a drug user to cut fentanyl into cocaine, as the highs are extremely different. Cocaine users are looking for a rush of energy and euphoria, opioid users are typically looking for relaxation and euphoria. But, while users don’t purposely add fentanyl to cocaine, dealers may be.
Authorities have speculated a variety of possible reasons for lacing cocaine and other non-opioid drugs with fentanyl, including addiction, improving potency, and simple carelessness. For example, fentanyl is significantly more addictive than cocaine. Once hooked, users are much more likely to become return customers, increasing profits for the dealer. This is highly speculative of course, as no dealer has admitted to lacing cocaine for this reason.
The other large possibility is that dealers are simply lazy. They sometimes sell multiple types of drugs, cutting and portioning substances on the same surface without cleaning in between. This could result in significant fentanyl contamination, as a dose of a fentanyl analogue can be extremely tiny. This is also much more likely for most dealers who are typically users themselves and not criminal masterminds.
How Big is the Risk?
37% of all drug related deaths in New York in 2016-2017 involved cocaine laced with fentanyl or users who had both substances in their blood. Despite that, the risk on a national level is significantly lower. Most dealers have no motivation to cut their cocaine and cocaine users are not looking for a fentanyl high.
However, fentanyl-laced drugs are becoming increasingly prevalent around the country. If you or a loved one uses, it is a risk. Statistically, less than 0.5% of all cocaine is laced with fentanyl. If even 1% of cocaine were laced, deaths across the nation would be significantly higher. But the risk is still there, as is the risk of other toxic substances such as strychnine.
Learning to Use Naloxone
If someone you love uses opioids or is exposed to opioids through drug use, the best overdose prevention is acquiring and learning to use Naloxone. Getting them to follow basic safety procedures, like testing drugs before using, not passing drugs around, and not using alone can also greatly reduce the risk of overdose or increase the risk of someone responding in a lifesaving way should something go wrong.
Naloxone is available fairly cheaply, and can slow or stop an overdose so that the user has time to get to a hospital. In most states, Naloxone can be acquired at a pharmacy, without a prescription. You may also be able to seek out training at a local Department of Health, or a drug safety organization in your city or county.
Any drug use is harmful and potentially fatal. The increasing prevalence of opioids like Fentanyl in non-opioid drugs increases the risk of overdose, but even without that risk, drugs are dangerous, expensive, and often detrimental to emotional and physical health. If you or a loved one is suffering from a substance use disorder, there is help.
An opioid addiction treatment center can provide the necessary medical support to guide you through detox, followed by counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy. Most modern treatment centers also take an approach that helps users to rebuild their life, working on behavior, skills, nutrition, exercise, and relationship or family health – so that a recovering addict has the support in place to be happy and successful without their drug.
Drug use, even casual use, can kill, and getting help and getting clean will make your loved one’s life better. Please contact Lighthouse Treatment Center today. We are happy to provide a no-cost, no-obligation consultation with one of our experienced treatment advisors. Help is available today.