A variant of an opiate drug, fentanyl, is being smuggled into the United States, sold to heroin dealers, and used to make heroin more potent. NPR reports that there have been a "wildfire of overdose deaths" directly related to fentanyl-traced heroin. Just last month, Portland resident Angelo Alonzo nearly escaped death after injecting the dangerous drug into his body.
Heroin is a drug processed from morphine, and it can be injected, smoked, or snorted. Heroin is an opiate, which are drugs used for treating pain. Opiates come from the opium of a poppy plant. Heroin is extremely addictive and the most fast-acting of the opiates (other opiates: Codeine, Hydrocodone, Oxycodone). Like many other drugs, regular heroin use develops tolerance to the drug, and naturally heroin users respond by increasing their dose to obtain the same high. Heroin temporarily creates "a sense of wellbeing or euphoria," but also causes dangerous long-term physical symtoms like respiratory depression, drowsiness, nausea, and convulsions. In overdose cases, users can suffer coma and death (Addictions and Recovery.org).
Lacing heroin with fentanyl only makes the drug more dangerous, since it is more potent than both morphine and heroin. In a clinical situation, fentanyl is sometimes used, in carefully titrated amounts, as a treatment for chronic pain for patients who are "physically tolerant to opiates" (DrugAbuse.gov). Heroin addicts are blind to the potency of the drug they are taking. The same amount of fentanyl-laced heroin could cause death in a user that normally tolerates that amount of normal heroin.
Alonzo, who almost died after injecting his "normal" amount of heroin, claims the fentanyl-laced supply "was enough to drop me to my knees" when normally he just experienced "a good mellow high."
It is beneficial for heroin dealers to lace their product with fentanyl, because it boosts the credibility of their product's potency. The drug is known to be diluted "higher up the distribution chain," so dealers gamble with the drug's safety by increasing the potency without knowing the current chemical components of the particular drug shipment.
Fentanyl has only been added to the federal list of banned substances recently by the DEA, and fentanyl-related deaths continue to increase. Janet Mills, Maine Attourney General, recommends that "prosecutors should seek the ability to make felony charges in fentanyl cases." This action could potentially be useful in both learning more inside information on heroin drug networks and encouraging addicts into rehabilitation therapy.
Although a difficult problem to tackle, authorities are trying to "boost public awareness about fentanyl" by warning the public when "they discover a particularly dangerous batch of heroin on the streets."
Will this save some heroin users from injected potentially lethal drugs into their system? Or will it challenge them to find, use, and conquer this supposedly deadly dose?
National Geographic calls heroin "the deadliest drug on the face of the planet." Check out the special video on heroin here:
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