Fentanyl — cheap, easy-to-make and deadly

Its odorless, colorless, tasteless, cheap and easy to make. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, contributed to 523 deaths across Maryland in the first three months of this year.

Dosed in several forms — both prescription and illicit — fentanyl has become widely used in medicine to treat pain. It also is widely used to “cut” heroin, and more increasingly, cocaine. Cheap and easy to make, fentanyl looks like heroin, and drug users often inadvertently take a fatal dose.

Some counties are handing out fentanyl test strips, which can identify the presence of fentanyl in unrelated drugs. The strips aren’t foolproof, however, and may not detect fentanyl analogs like carfentanil. Harm reduction advocates say using the strips can help prevent overdoses, and encourage drug users to go slow if a strip detects fentanyl, and to have Narcan close by. Studies from institutions such as Johns Hopkins have reported these strips can detect fentanyl with a high degree of accuracy and may reduce fentanyl overdoses.

The study, a Bloomberg American Health Initiative done in 2018, tested three drugs in three cities – Boston, Baltimore and Providence. The researchers also investigated whether people who use drugs would be interested in testing for fentanyl to protect themselves. The vast majority of people studied — 86% would use a fentanyl test.

The study cautions that there are limitations with the strips, which should be part of an overall strategy. You can read the full report here: https://americanhealth.jhu.edu/fentanyl.

Fentanyl is so deadly that the DEA issued a brief calling the drug “the most prevalent and the most significant opioid threat to the United States.” And a new trend is emerging — dealers are now cutting cocaine with Fentanyl.

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