There’s Been An Alarming Rise In The Lethal Drug Fentanyl

Mar 31, 2015 at 8:24 AM ET

The feds are warning police about the resurgence of a potent drug called fentanyl that is 50 times more powerful than heroin. Cops confiscated fentanyl 3,344 times last year, up from 942 the year before, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. It can be absorbed through the skin, and very small amounts can be fatal. The DEA is concerned that law-enforcement agents could be exposed to potentially lethal doses during busts.

This is not the first time the drug has been a problem for law enforcement and a risk to public health. Between 2005 and 2007, more than 1,000 people in the U.S. died from fentanyl overdoses. Most of those deaths occurred in Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia. Federal law enforcement officials linked each of those deaths to a single lab in Mexico. “When that lab was identified and dismantled, the surge ended,” the DEA says.

The increase in heroin use in the U.S. over the past decade, particularly in the Northeast and California, has helped fuel the rise of fentanyl. When users are looking for a drug with a big kick but can’t find any heroin, they turn to fentanyl. Russia, Ukraine and other eastern European countries also have seen an increase in addicts using fentanyl. The drug has been around since 1960 and typically is used by doctors as a pain reliever or an anesthetic. On the black market, it is usually mixed with cocaine or heroin and sold in powder form.

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