In recent years, the United States and Canada has seen an increase in fentanyl related overdoses. Fentanyl is a pharmaceutical drug classified as an opiate. It is a whitish powder that can be found in the form of tablets, in capsules, and cut with other drugs. The drug’s infamous potency and accessibility has attracted many buyers and sellers.
Fentanyl was first used as an anesthetic during operating procedures. It is currently being used to treat pain symptoms from a variety of medical conditions. Fentanyl produces a feeling euphoria and a sense of well-being, the effects can last up to 6 hours. A primary cause of addiction is the high tolerance after the first use. This leads to higher doses constantly needed to reproduce the initial high. The discomfort from ‘coming down’ is another leading factor in addiction, users will avoid withdrawal symptoms by simply dosing again. Other side effects include weight loss, hallucinations, shaking and sweating.
Opioids are the leading category in overdoses and fentanyl is steadily rising with people looking for drugs that are more accessible and more potent. Fentanyl has the same high inducing effects as morphine, only stronger. “Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Like any synthetic drug the potency is only an estimate but could easily be more as a result the likelihood of death is also higher. In Sacramento county 53 fentanyl related overdoses resulted in 12 deaths. Fentanyl, along with other prescriptions, can cause noticeable impairment that puts others at risk, particularly while driving. Drug dealers aren’t sure of the potency and users have no way to tell what they are consuming. Most fentanyl seized has been illicitly created.
For producers, fentanyl is relatively inexpensive to make. A kilo of fentanyl can be made for cheaper than it takes to produce a kilo of heroin. Fentanyl from China and Mexico has been found in the United States, with similar cases in Canada, both pharmaceutical grade and illicit. Fentanyl’s strength allows for the sale of smaller quantities to more people since the drug is highly addictive it results in a consistent demand. It can also be bought and sold over the internet on black market websites, it is a lucrative business for drug dealers.
Non-illicitly created fentanyl is sold from people with prescriptions or by those with access to the drug. According to Drug Abuse, “Because Fentanyl is frequently administered in a hospital setting, people with easier access to the drug (those working in or around a healthcare setting) may fall prey to fentanyl addiction.” Since it is accessible and prescribed to patients, law enforcement have found it difficult to prevent abuse.
Most labs and law enforcement are not equipped to detect fentanyl since its use is still gaining momentum. During 2013-2014, the CDC found there were over 400 percent more cases of fentanyl use than the previous year. With a high estimate for unreported cases, its various forms and mixture with other drugs make it difficult to be detected. It has been found mixed with heroin, OxyContin, and cocaine.
Withdrawal from fentanyl is non-lethal but it has similar painful withdrawal symptoms as other drugs in its category. Its potency make users particularly vulnerable to relapse. Support groups, clinics, and medication is available for fentanyl users to overcome addiction. Unfortunately, fentanyl related incidents are expected to increase in the next few years.