What You Need to Know About Fentanyl, the Leading Cause of Overdose in the U.S.

Everything you need to know about fentanyl, the powerful narcotic that took Prince's life and made El Chapo's crew the largest cartel in the world.

Fentanyl label

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Fentanyl label

Last week, Ohio police officer Chris Green accidentally overdosed after searching the vehicle of two suspected drug dealers. No, they didn't spray something into the air, nor was he accidentally stuck with any kind of needle. According to NBC News, Green had a small amount of white powder on his shirt that he wiped off...with his bare hand.

An hour later, Green passed out and was soon rushed to the hospital and treated for an overdose. East Liverpool Police Chief John Lane told CNN "This is scary. He could have walked out of the building and left and he could have passed out while he was driving. You don't even know it's there on his clothes. His wife, kids and his dog could be confronted with it and boom, they're dead. This could never end." This wasn't some rookie mistake; Green wore the gloves and mask he was required to don during these kinds of drug searches, but the powder turned out to be fentanyl, which is apparently high power enough to send you to the hospital just by coming into contact your skin.

"What the fuck is fentanyl," you might be asking? It's one of the most dangerous substances on the earth, strong enough to kill Prince and lucrative enough to make El Chapo one of the most dangerous cartel heads on the planet. Here's a primer on the powerful drug.

Fentanyl is super potent

While the National Institute on Drug Abuse says that the "synthetic opioid analgesic" known as fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) said in March of 2017 that "some fentanyl analogues, which are designed to mimic the pharmacological effects of the original drug, may be as much as 10,000 times more potent than morphine." According to rehabcenter.net, "few opiates, if any, are as potent as fentanyl," which makes the abuse of this drug a very huge deal.

Fentanyl is mostly used as an anesthetic and a pain killer

Fentanyl's primary use is as an anesthetic, as well as a pain killer for the chronic pain suffered by cancer patients. 

There are a number of ways to take fentanyl

Fentanyl was first manufactured in 1960, and since then, there have been a number of ways people have ingested the drug, including injections, fentanyl patches, and even via a fentanyl lollipop (no bullshit), which is said to give faster pain relief. Though these are prescribed under strict medical supervision, there have been instances of doctors improperly prescribing the drug that have resulted in death, like this New Jersey case involving fentanyl (being marketed as Subsys) being used for pain management.

When even doctors are prone to making deadly mistakes administering the drug, imagine how lethal the abuse of a narcotic like fentanyl can be outside of a doctor's office?

Fentanyl has a long list of side effects

If you take a look at the "more common side effects" of fentanyl use listed on Drugs.com, it's amazing that anyone would dare even try the drug. Here's a sample of the myriad of "common" issues that are associated with fentanyl use.

  • Decreased urine
  • Convulsions
  • Difficult or labored breathing
  • Sunken eyes
  • Pale skin
  • Increased thirst
  • Ulcers, sores, or white spots in the mouth
  • Unusual bleeding or bruising
  • Lower back or side pain
  • Painful or difficult urination
  • Fainting

Less common effects include "slow or fast heartbeat," "abdonimal or stomach pain," "thinking abnormalities," "seizures," and much, much more. While most drugs, both legal and illegal, have side effects, but these seem a little excessive. Read: very excessive.

Fentanyl is flooding American drug markets by way of Mexican cartels

In October of 2016, the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Agency reported that 70 pounds of fentanyl and 6,000 counterfeit pills were confiscated in September of 2016. Most of this fentanyl was actually being substituted by drug dealers for heroin, primarily because its cheaper and easier to produce than heroin and, as we mentioned earlier, packs more of a punch than heroin.

DEA spokeswoman Amy Roderick told NBC 7 that "It’s extremely profitable for the cartels. They aren’t having to wait for harvest. They aren’t having to harvest the poppy plants. They’re not having to manufacture that paste into heroin. They are literally just getting a chemical from China."

An Esquire feature from August of 2016 called fentanyl "the new crack cocaine," reporting that the DEA estimated that imports of fentanyl from Mexico were up 65 percent from 2014, and was instrumental in putting so much money in the pocket of El Chapo's Sinaloa Cartel, who at the time was already a major figure in the Mexican drug trade. Once they went all in on mass producing fentanyl, they saw their profits rise, especially with their ability to undercut the price of, say, a kilo of heroin, from their competition, driving up the demand for their (mostly fentanyl) product.

Fentanyl overdoses have gone up in recent years

Not only is fentanyl the drug that medical examiners blame as the cause for Prince's 2016 death, but its been a menace for the feds to keep up with. In August of 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that "Nationally, the number of fentanyl submissions and synthetic opioid deaths increased by 426% and 79%, respectively, during 2013–2014; among the 27 analyzed states, fentanyl submission increases were strongly correlated with increases in synthetic opioid deaths." This aligns the school of thought that a) fentanyl use in America is on the rise and b) fentanyl seems to be replacing heroin in these instances.

This isn't just an American problem, though; 2016 saw British Columbia seeking federal help to deal with the rising number of fentanyl deaths, which they were calling a "public health emergency." At one point, police in British Columbia thought that there were nine people who OD'd on fentanyl in a 20-minute period (thankfully, no one died at that time). New reports state that 21,000 people were killed by fentanyl (and other opioid substances) in 2016, which more than doubled 2015's numbers.

If you haven't figured it out, fentanyl use and abuse is a big fucking deal. It's more powerful than heroin, can be manufactured and sold at a faster pace than heroin, and have enough juice to take out literal geniuses like Prince. If fentanyl can render an officer unconscious just by touching it, imagine what it can do if its sold on the street as molly or some other drug that can be copped during a festival? Take care of yourselves.

We strongly suggest you avoid the use and abuse of any drugs, including fetanyl, which can lead to death. For any questions, concerns, or assistance regarding drug overdoses, contact the CDC.

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