Why is Fentanyl so Prevalent?

prescription opioids spilling out of an orange bottle

The name fentanyl has been making headlines for several years due to an upsurge in overdose deaths across America. In 2016, federal health officials announced that fentanyl had surpassed heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine as the deadliest drugs in the country. The DEA says that the drug is likely to continue posing a serious threat to Americans from coast to coast despite efforts to crack down on its import and illicit production.

The reasons fentanyl is so prolific are complex and pose significant hurdles in solving a new layer added to an already long-lasting opioid crisis. Recognizing and raising awareness of the dangers of fentanyl are equally crucial in preventing further fatalities.

It’s profitable.

Fentanyl is cheaper to produce and more potent than heroin, making it highly profitable for illicit manufacturers and distributors. A quick analysis provided by the Wall Street Journal estimates that $800,000 worth of fentanyl on the black market could take as little as $810 to produce. Furthermore, the drug itself is often purchased in bulk from China at a meager price when compared to heroin that is trafficked from Colombia. With constant cargo freight arriving from China, the supply is much more accessible and easier to smuggle into the US.

It’s marketed as heroin.

Because both fentanyl and heroin are opioids, they can be difficult to distinguish, especially to illicit distributors. Many street sellers have sold strong batches of what they believed was heroin, only to find out after being apprehended by authorities that it was, in fact, fentanyl. These situations can have deadly consequences when habitual heroin users ingest the same dose when unknowingly buying fentanyl.

It’s used to lace other drugs.

Many believe that the sudden influx of fentanyl was caused by a heroin shortage, forcing manufacturers to use fentanyl in its place. However, authorities have found traces of fentanyl in non-opioid street drugs, especially cocaine, MDMA, marijuana and others readily found on the black market, especially in venues with recreational drug users such as music festivals and nightclubs. Due to its potency, even a small dose of fentanyl in a non-opioid drug could cause someone to overdose without knowing what they ingested, making it difficult for those around them to react and take life-saving measures.

It’s tough to regulate.

With much of the fentanyl in America coming from China, it leads to multiple entryways for trafficking. Some arrive through the Canadian and Mexican borders, while the rest comes directly to American ports. Since fentanyl is completely synthetic and made in a lab, unlike heroin which is partially derived from the poppy plant, authorities have a much harder time finding the source of manufacturers. China’s loose regulations also make this process more difficult for border patrol and the DEA, while much easier for smugglers to traffic the drug into the country.

There is much work to be done to help identify the root sources of fentanyl entering the country and how to stop it from reaching end users. Until progress is made, those with opioid use disorder are strongly urged to consider treatment to avoid falling victim to this insidious and deadly drug. There is hope, and Middlesex Recovery is waiting for your call.

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