Heroin use has always been a serious issue where drug abuse is concerned, but in the last few years it has become even more deadly due to fentanyl being added to give it more “kick”. Dealers have begun including fentanyl to improve the potency of their product; however, the equipment they use to measure out amounts for trafficking don’t usually measure at levels fine enough to ensure that the amount of fentanyl that has been added stays below overdose levels. To add to the danger, fentanyl sold at the street level is usually manufactured in “underground” labs which produce a far less pure product than pharmaceutical-grade labs, which can cause unpredictable effects on the body (Bond, 2016).
Heroin is classified by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) as a Schedule I drug, while fentanyl is classified as a Schedule II drug. Both are opioid derivatives; however, while heroin is synthesized directly from morphine, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid analgesic, with a potency of 50x to 100x that of morphine (NIDA, 1969, 2011, 2014). While both have a high potential for abuse, there is a wide gulf between the two drugs with regard to the amount required to induce an overdose. An average sized adult male would take around 30g of heroin to produce an overdose situation, roughly an amount similar to 7 packets of sugar. By contrast, it would only take around 3g of fentanyl (little more than a ½ packet) to produce an overdose (Bond, 2016).
Fentanyl-laced heroin quickly reached crisis levels as it began to gain popularity among users. In March of 2015, the (DEA) issued a nationwide alert in response to a surge in overdose deaths from heroin laced with fentanyl (19 March 2015). While heroin has been recognized as having a high potential for abuse since the mid-1900s, fentanyl wasn’t added as a Schedule II substance until 2015, after recognizing that a variant, acetyl fentanyl, was being manufactured by Mexican cartels and smuggled stateside for distribution (10 September 2015). The problem has surged so much that “the National Forensic Laboratory Information System, which collects data from state and local police labs, reported 3,344 fentanyl submissions in 2014, up from 942 in 2013” (Leger, 2015).
Due to the resurgence in popularity of heroin among IV drug users in recent years, it would seem that fentanyl-laced heroin and the associated use risks and health issues with regard to overdosing are going to be an issue for some time to come.
Bond, A. (2016, September 29). Why fentanyl is deadlier than heroin, in a single photo. Retrieved November 10, 2016, from https://www.statnews.com/2016/09/29/fentanyl-heroin-photo-fatal-doses/
DEA Issues Alert on Fentanyl-Laced Heroin as Overdose Deaths Surge Nationwide – Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. (2015, March 19). Retrieved November 10, 2016, from http://www.drugfree.org/news-service/dea-issues-alert-fentanyl-laced-heroin-overdose-deaths-surge-nationwide/
Fentanyl-Laced Heroin Worsening Overdose Crisis, Officials Say – Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. (2015, September 10). Retrieved November 10, 2016, from http://www.drugfree.org/news-service/fentanyl-laced-heroin-worsening-overdose-crisis-officials-say/
Leger, D. L. (2015, March 18). DEA: Deaths from fentanyl-laced heroin surging. Retrieved November 10, 2016, from http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2015/03/18/surge-in-overdose-deaths-from-fentanyl/24957967/
NIDA (2011). Fentanyl. Retrieved November 10, 2016, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/fentanyl
NIDA (1969, rev. October 2014). Heroin. Retrieved November 10, 2016, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin
Pennyroyal Doctoral Intern