Fentanyl is a Schedule II synthetic prescription narcotic used to relieve severe or chronic pain, commonly used for cancer patients or as a last-resort pain medication. It’s available as a skin patch, lozenge, pill, shot and a dissolvable film strip. Fentanyl is approximately 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine and roughly 15 to 20 times more potent than heroin. It is also sometimes used to treat people with chronic pain who are physically tolerant to opiates.
In its prescription form, fentanyl is known as Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze. As a recreational drug, street names for the drug include Apache, China girl, China white, dance fever, friend, good fella, jackpot, murder 8, TNT, Tango and Cashfentanyl.
A deadly mixture
A batch of white heroin mixed 50:50 with fentanyl was recently responsible for approximately 100 deaths in the United States, with 36 occurring in Pennsylvania in January 2014. The drugs were contained in bags labeled Bud Ice, Income Tax, and Theraflu. Pure fentanyl sold as heroin was cited in the deaths of four people in Roanoke, Virginia, during June 2015.
There was even speculation that Philip Seymour Hoffman was killed by a similar blend when the actor was found dead in January 2014. The drug envelopes found in his apartment were marked Ace of Spades and Ace of Hearts.
Nearly all of the heroin involved in the fatal overdoses that have plagued the northeastern United States is cut with fentanyl before crossing the Mexico-U.S. border, according to the head of the New England division of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Heroin produced in Colombia is shipped to Mexico, where authorities believe drug cartels add fentanyl. The drug is then smuggled across the border to traffickers in the U.S., some of whom travel more than 2,000 miles from New England to the Southwest border for the drug. Once the drug reaches New England, it is distributed to dealers in smaller cities, affluent suburbs, and isolated towns, through contacts in virtually every major city and town in New England.
What is acetyl fentanyl?
Mixing fentanyl with heroin isn’t new; however, the development of a synthetic fentanyl has just started to make headlines. Three 2014 overdose deaths in North Carolina have been linked to acetyl fentanyl, a designer opioid drug closely related to the prescription painkilling opioid fentanyl. Two deaths occurred in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana due to the drug and the use of acetyl fentanyl seems to be spreading throughout the country.
Acetyl fentanyl is often marketed as heroin but it is five times more potent than heroin, 16 times more potent than morphine. Therefore, it is leading to many overdose deaths, particularly in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. The pills are also peddled as oxycodone.
The prescription drug fentanyl is actually even more potent than acetyl fentanyl but is safe to use in pharmaceutically controlled dosages. A specific antidote, naloxone, can be administered to block the effects of heroin, morphine, fentanyl and other opioids. But acetyl fentanyl is difficult to detect and easy to miss in drug overdose cases. Other drugs were detected in most cases, including opioids, alcohol, and benzodiazepines; however, one person died solely from acetyl fentanyl.
The opiate is typically used intravenously and taken as a substitute for heroin. However, many users are unaware that what they are injecting isn’t actually heroin. Acetyl fentanyl is not scheduled under the Controlled Substance Act. With heroin use skyrocketing in the United States, authorities worry that without any control over acetyl fentanyl that more overdose deaths can be expected.