Just when you thought America’s opioid problem couldn’t get any worse, along comes fentanyl, a powerful man-made narcotic that is being cut into heroin, causing thousands of fatal overdoses. A federal drug official calls fentanyl “a weapon of mass destruction.”
The Washington Post examines the precipitous rise of fentanyl as the latest deadly complication to the nation’s intractable opioid crisis. Once a minor player in the drug crisis, the man-made narcotic — about 50 times stronger than heroin — is directly linked to thousands of overdoses and a shocking rise in fatalities nationwide, a trend that is particularly noticeable in the nation’s urban areas. Drug-users are buying heroin laced with an even more potent additive, often in unpredictable amounts that antidotes can’t stop from being deadly.
In 24 of the nation’s largest cities and the counties that surround them, fentanyl-related overdose deaths increased nearly 600 percent from 2014 to 2016, according to county health departments nationwide. Overdose records in those cities show there were 3,946 fatal overdoses linked to fentanyl last year, up from 582 in 2014. Officials estimate there will be a much higher number of fatal fentanyl-related overdoses in 2017. Chicago, Orlando and Columbus, Ohio, were among the cities with huge increases. Law enforcement and public health officials say they are alarmed by the rate at which fentanyl has infiltrated the illicit drug market and how it is transforming the face of the drug crisis, which resulted in 60,000 fatal overdoses in 2016, more than half of which were from opioids. “If anything can be likened to a weapon of mass destruction in what it can do to a community, it’s fentanyl,” said Michael Ferguson, agent in charge of the DEA’s New England division. “It’s manufactured death.”