What’s in that drug you’re about to put in your body? Chances are, the street drugs you buy are cut with fentanyl, especially if your drug of choice is heroin.
The contamination isn’t benign. Fentanyl is much more powerful than the street drugs your body is accustomed to, and it’s nearly impossible to detect without a laboratory. Take in a fentanyl dose — even a small one — and you could lose your life.
Why Add Fentanyl to Other Drugs?
Dealers don’t want to kill their customers. It’s a horrible business model. But they also want to make a profit, and they don’t want to get arrested for their work.
Fentanyl’s characteristics make it ideal for dealers hoping to deliver a reliable, potent high. But they may never tell you that they’ve changed your drug formulation.
To sell prescription drugs like Vicodin or OxyContin, drug dealers need to grab pharmaceutical supplies. They can do that by:
- Robbing pharmacies.
- Paying doctors.
- Stealing from patients.
- Hijacking shipments.
These are all risky steps, and they’re time consuming too.
Heroin isn’t much easier. Dealers have to secure a poppy crop, and those plants can die in hot and dry conditions. The poppy sap must then be extracted, dried, and pressed into powder. Without enough manpower, it’s impossible to get the work done.
Fentanyl makes a drug dealer’s life so much easier.
Dealers can buy the raw ingredients for fentanyl from suppliers in China. They can cook up their own batches with simple tools. Add dye to the powder, and it looks like brown heroin. Press it into a capsule, and it seems like Vicodin.
The product looks similar, but fentanyl is remarkably more powerful. Dealers who want to get the attention of customers might appreciate that attribute. Their product has a bigger kick, and if their customers don’t die from it, they may come back for more.
Fentanyl is also a prescription painkiller. Technically, it’s in the same opioid class as Vicodin or OxyContin.
But researchers say deaths due to fentanyl have risen at the same time prescribing rates have dipped. So the contaminated product you’re getting didn’t start in a pharmacist’s office. A dealer made it.
Do Users Know They’re Taking Fentanyl?
People who take drugs aren’t dumb. They have intimate knowledge of their substance of choice. Just as a wine connoisseur has hundreds of words to describe how the liquid tastes and feels, a drug user can expand on the experience at will. But not all of them know that the dose they’re taking contains fentanyl.
Consider this. Pew Charitable Trusts reports that fentanyl deaths come in clusters. When one person dies, several others are soon to follow.
In West Virginia in 2016, they say, 26 people overdosed in four hours. Outbreaks like this are common in some parts of the country that are hit hard by fentanyl.
A cluster of deaths suggests that users aren’t hoping to take fentanyl. Instead, they are:
- Buying what they think is pure. They may be using the same dealer and taking home the amount they always do.
- Taking their typical dose. They have no idea they have a stronger drug, so they load a needle in their customary manner.
- Overwhelming their bodies. Fentanyl takes over the central nervous system and shuts down breathing impulses. People slip into a coma-like state in minutes.
In parts of the country where fentanyl is rampant, users know that the drug can kill them. In a study conducted in Baltimore, for example, 56 percent of drug users said most of the heroin sold in the area had fentanyl. And 75 percent of them worried about their friends overdosing on this powerful drug.
If you live in an area where fentanyl is commonplace, you’ve seen your friends die. You may have lived through your own near-death experience. You may also be looking for fentanyl.
In a study published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, researchers asked drug users about the substances they took. Some claimed they sought out fentanyl because:
- It pushed past prescription drugs. Medications like buprenorphine render heroin inert. Fentanyl is stronger, and it can deliver a high despite the prescription drug.
- It’s stronger than heroin. Your body adjusts to the constant presence of heroin. Small doses won’t work anymore. Fentanyl’s strength can get you high, even if your metabolism has changed.
- It comes on strong. Drug users describe a “rush” when the substance takes hold. The fentanyl version is immense, and some people love that. Adding it to heroin means getting a big high that lasts a long time.
Death Rates Are Rising
No matter why people take fentanyl, and regardless of whether they know it or not, the results can be the same. The drug is powerful, and it’s impossible to detect.
Even a dose smaller than a penny is enough to kill you. And every day, someone in the United States finds that out firsthand.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says synthetic opioids (primarily fentanyl) were responsible for 50 percent of opioid deaths in 2016. Back in 2010, they were involved in just 14 percent of those deaths.
Researchers refer to fentanyl deaths as a “new wave” of the painkiller epidemic. Just as deaths due to drugs like Vicodin are slowing and becoming controlled, fentanyl appears to take more lives.
Researchers publish charts to explain the data they collect, and they look like ski jumps. The lines are flat to the left until they spike up and keep climbing off to the right. It’s hard to realize that each line represents thousands of deaths. One wonders if it will ever end.
Some experts say that the issue will worsen before it improves. They point to lab tests that show straight fentanyl in some street products. In the past, users had a mixed drug experience. Now, they’re getting a full firehose of power. That could lead to even more deaths.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Treatment can help you gain control over your drug use, your habits, and your life. You can learn how to avoid the corner drug dealer and nourish your soul at the same time.
A combination of social support, medication, therapeutic intervention, and time can make all the difference. If you’ve been avoiding the help you need, it’s time to change. Reach out for assistance now.