As the federal government is trying to crack down on prescription painkiller abuse, drug traffickers are attempting to thwart them at every turn. A tactic among drug peddlers that’s growing in popularity is the creation and distribution of the synthetic opioid fentanyl or drugs that mimic fentanyl’s effects. In 2015, U.S. officials identified 2,000 instances of fentanyl derivatives, up from just 48 the previous year.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Special Testing and Research Laboratory has identified some 50 fentanyl-related compounds in its drugs database. Fentanyl and its new variations are produced in labs and mimic the effects of heroin, but are much stronger.
Fentanyl and its imitators are often turned into pills or used to cut heroin, making it difficult for users to know how much they’re using. This dosage confusion is deadly, and deaths from fentanyl and related synthetic opioid tripled between 2013 and 2015.
What Do Fentanyl and its Imitators Do?
- The most potent prescription painkiller on the market, often prescribed by doctors for extreme pain for those in cancer treatment, fentanyl, in its prescription form is known by such names as Actiq®, Duragesic®, and Sublimaze®.
- Like other opioids, fentanyl affects the human brain, producing intense euphoria and relaxation, similar to heroin.
- Fentanyl is fast-acting and habit-forming.
- A single dose of fentanyl yields extreme drowsiness, slowed heartbeat and irregular breathing.
- Fentanyl is 25 – 50 times more toxic than heroin and 100 times more toxic than morphine. It is also far cheaper than heroin, according to users. Read more on our blog.
Where Do the Manufactured Drugs Come From?
According to China’s National Narcotics Control Commission, it has blacklisted some 19 fentanyl-related molecules and is now considering adding four more to its list of controlled substances, including the weapons-grade drug carfentanil and other opioids like U-47700. Associated Press reporters identified more than a dozen companies online offering to export fentanyl-like drugs from China.
Mexican drug cartels are also profiting from the synthetic opioid trade, with nearly two-thirds of the fentanyl seized by U.S. customs in 2015 coming from Mexico. Mexican and U.S. authorities say those labs mainly use material imported from China to make the drugs.
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