Taking fentanyl is like playing Russian roulette. Compared to its’ cousins, heroin and morphine – fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, can be 50 times more powerful than heroin and a 100 times more potent than morphine. Taking in even a tiny bit more of what the human body can normally handle proves to be fatal.
Addicts have known for a fact that you are, in ways, playing with your life when you take the drug –but it seems as though that news of a death from fentanyl overdose can rather entice users, making them crave more for the drug.
A 30-year-old carpenter and barber from Lawrence, Massachusetts who said he had been clean for four months remarked that if he heard that someone had overdosed or even died from fentanyl, he would hunt down that batch. Mr. Eddie Frasca, whose been shooting up heroin says he now sought its more potent, lethal cousin, fentanyl. “I’d say to myself, ‘I’m going to spend the least amount of money and get the best kind of high I can,’” he said.
Known in the streets as Apache, China girl, China white, dance fever, friend, goodfella, jackpot, murder s, TNT, as well as Tango and Cash, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the fentanyl epidemic has become the country’s worst drug infestation to date; a major cause in a drastic rise of drug related deaths.
Most of the recent fentanyl related deaths have occurred in the Northwest, Mid-Atlantic and Appalachia, where it is sometimes mixed with another white powder, heroin. It is also starting to creep into the Midwest. Drug dealers have been lacing fentanyl into heroin – often without the user’s knowledge.
Recent reports show that fentanyl is now killing more people than heroin as it is increasingly being sold by itself. In New Hampshire, fentanyl related deaths rose to 158 cases last year; heroin killed 32.
When investigators reviewed the sudden increase of deaths in 2014 which appeared to be caused by heroin, they found out that lab tests showed the presence of fentanyl in majority of the cases. Many state crime laboratories and coroner’s offices do not track fentanyl-related deaths; so national statistics can be hard to come by.
In 2013, Massachusetts state police crime lab found only 6 cases that pure fentanyl was involved; in 2015, the number grew to 425 cases.
“The severity of the situation did not become apparent until the public health community noticed the above-average number of overdoses,” a report by the National Drug Intelligence Center at the Justice Department warned in 2006. Special toxicological testing is needed to detect fentanyl, but most coroners and state crime labs did not run those tests unless they had a specific reason.
The rolling fentanyl drug epidemic is also, somehow, driven by prescription painkillers – in 2015, doctors wrote 6.64 million legal fentanyl prescriptions in the U.S. Most deaths are from illegally manufactured fentanyl, but some result from diverting medical sources.
In Massachussets, the fentanyl-related overdoses from 0ctober 2014 to October 2015 have increased from 219 deaths to 336, a 53 percent increase.Click to tweet
In Vermont, 12 deaths occurred in 2013 and 18 in 2014. A drastic increase of 142 percent in two years’ accounts for the 29 deaths in 2015.
In Maine, deaths attributed to fentanyl rose to 87 in 2015, up from 42 in 2014 and nine in 2013, an 867 percent increase in two years.
Last March, the Drug Enforcement Administration issued a nationwide alert about fentanyl, saying that overdoses were “occurring at an alarming rate throughout the United States and represents a significant threat to public health and safety.”
Fentanyl has been used since the 1960s in medical settings to treat extreme pain, more recently as a patch or in a lozenge. In recent decades, illicit fentanyl has seeped into the United States from Mexico.
Maura Healey, attorney general of Massachusetts, said in an interview that “It started out as an opioid epidemic, then heroin, but now it’s a fentanyl epidemic,” she further added that it has become a drug of choice for drug cartels. “They have figured out a way to make fentanyl more cheaper and easily than heroin and are manufacturing it at a record pace.”
New England law enforcement agencies are now increasing efforts in battling the problem since a drastic rise in drug overdose have been noticed. They have started to link more of the deaths caused by fentanyl overdose.
“It sort of snuck up on us,” said Detective Capt. Robert P. Pistone of the Haverhill Police Department in Massachusetts. More and more drug busts and arrests are now being conducted as they increase anti-drug operations. They are finding more and more fentanyl in drug busts, though it is not clear how much of this reflects a new invasion of the drug or just more testing and reporting.
Fentanyl drug confiscations are concentrated in 10 states: Ohio being the top followed by Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, Kentucky, Virginia, Florida, New Hampshire and Indiana. Forensic laboratories report a jump of 4,585 seizures, from 618 in 2012.
An old mill town, Lawrence, 30 miles north of Boston, near New Hampshire has long been observed as a major drug hub. Some of the biggest fentanyl busts occurred in and around the area. Massachusetts has become an epicenter for the heroin/fentanyl trade. Much of the heroin/fentanyl trafficked and sold all over the New England states come from Lawrence.
One of the biggest busts involved 33 pounds of fentanyl and heroin with a street value of $2.2million, it was confiscated in a house in Lawrence. In just short span of time, the police seized 66 pounds of fentanyl-laced heroin, worth millions, in nearby Tewksbury and indicted two Lawrence men in connection to fentanyl and heroin distribution operations involving more than a million dollars of drug money.
The police say that most lucrative drug deals occur in fast-food restaurants in noted exits to nearby towns. A marked middleman can simply meet his dealer in a weekly basis off an exit in Haverhill, and would purchase 100 “fingers” (10 grams each) of fentanyl for $400 apiece. He could sell each finger for $750 in New Hampshire and Maine, making $35,000 a week.
Heather Sartori, 38, a former nurse who is on methadone after years of shooting up heroin, described Lawrence as a drug infested landscape “the treacherous terrain where the ghosts of the fallen linger.”
“It would really be hard to navigate through this city without being touched by it.” She said, adding “It’s just everywhere.”
She tells us that for the rational thinker, understanding how an addicted mind works is beyond our comprehension, “It’s cheaper, and the high is better, so more addicts will go to a dealer to get that quality and grade,” she said, even if it means they could die. She had lost several friends to fentanyl.
“It’s all there is out there right now,” said G, 24-year-old who lives under one of the bridges. Fentanyl is too abundant in tent cities of homeless people and bridges over the Merrimack River. “I couldn’t find real heroin if I tried.”
Fentanyl’s principal characteristic is that it is fact acting.
“You can’t move,” “When you inject it, it hits before you’re even done giving the shot,” said a 46-year-old woman who kept nodding during an interview at the Haverhill police station. “That’s why so many people get caught with the needle still hanging out of their arm. It’s bam! To your brain.”
Naloxone could be used to treat overdose but fentanyl works so quickly that there is often little time to administer the counter-drug. Executive director of Learn to Cope, a statewide support network for families involved with addiction said “At least with heroin, there is a chance that if someone relapses, they can get back into recovery,” she further added that with fentanyl, it is only a matter of moments before an addict can be dead.