Addiction

Updated 09 February 2016

Fentanyl: drug 50 times stronger than heroin causing havoc in US

Heroin dealers in the US city of Manchester mix fentanyl with their product, and buyers have no idea of the ratio of heroin to fentanyl and how much of the drug they can safely take.

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The Guardian reports that Manchester, the largest city in the US state of New Hampshire, is being ravaged by a synthetic form of the drug fentanyl which is produced in Mexico and smuggled across the border into the USA.

The drug is described as “a killer” by local police, and in 2015, 68 percent of fatal overdose victims in Manchester had taken this opioid. 

Euphoria and relaxation

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) fentanyl is a powerful opiate analgesic, developed in the 1960s, that is similar to morphine and used to treat patients suffering from severe pain. In its legal form, fentanyl is sold as Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze.

Like morphine and heroin, fentanyl binds to receptors in the brain and increases dopamine levels, causing euphoria and relaxation. Fentanyl is however 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin and 100 times more powerful than morphine.

Read: Heroin alert

This fact leads to overdosing in cities like Manchester because heroin dealers mix fentanyl with their product, and buyers have no idea of the ratio of heroin to fentanyl and how much of the drug they can safely take.  

In cases of overdose, substances called opiate receptor antagonists can be used to block the effects of opiates and save lives. One of these antagonists is called naloxone and is used to revive drug users who have overdosed on fentanyl.

Mexican cartels

Manchester’s chief of police, Nick Willard, reports that during a recent raid in Manchester he’d found a dealer mixing fentanyl with whey protein and in another sting operation a dealer was allegedly caught mixing fentanyl and heroin together in a food blender.

Willard adds that the current crisis started when pharmaceutical companies altered opioid medications to make them more difficult to “tamper with and get high”. Addicts then turned to heroin to get high – and fentanyl producers in Mexico were quick to take advantage of the gap in the market.     

Mexican cartels make their own fentanyl by importing chemical ingredients from China; they then smuggle the product across the US border and onto the interstate highway system.

Read more:

FDA approves drug to treat painkiller overdose

Legalising marijuana cuts drug overdose deaths

Don’t overdose on your pain meds

References:

The Guardian (04.02.16): http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/feb/04/fentanyl-drug-heroin-new-hampshire-mexico-cartels

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH): http://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/fentanyl