Over the past year and a half, the drug fentanyl has rapidly grown in popularity across the United States with nine fentanyl seizures in the state of California alone. Some of the cities affected include Los Angeles, Riverside, San Francisco, Pine Valley, San Clemente and Chula Vista.1 Specifically, in June 2017, San Diego had two record fentanyl seizures. One seizure even yielded enough fentanyl for 14 million doses. The other seizure at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in San Diego was found inside a vehicle entering from Mexico.
Nationally, more Americans are dying from drug overdoses than ever. In 2015, the tally was 52,000, with 33,000 of them dying from heroin, fentanyl and other opioids. The total for 2016 drug overdose fatalities has not yet been released but is expected to reach close to 60,000.2
Why are these numbers on the rise? Is there a reason (or several reasons) for fentanyl’s boost in popularity? Let’s look closer at a brief history of fentanyl to understand more about this drug.
A Brief History of Fentanyl
Fentanyl was first developed in 1959 and introduced in the 1960s as an intravenous anesthetic. In its purest form, fentanyl is a white powder that looks a lot like grains of salt. It only takes a very small amount of fentanyl to cause a severe or potentially deadly reaction. As little as two milligrams is a lethal dosage for most people. When a physician prescribes fentanyl, the drug is often administered via injection, transdermal patch or in lozenges. Fentanyl is typically used to treat patients with severe pain or to manage pain after surgery.3
Fentanyl is also sometimes used to treat patients with chronic pain who are physically tolerant to other opioids. Fentanyl is approximately 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin as a way of relieving pain.4 So if an individual takes a very small amount of fentanyl, his body may have a serious reaction, such as a drug overdose that leads to death.
The Dangers of Fentanyl
As mentioned above, fentanyl is a very strong drug — much stronger than morphine or heroin. It is also available in many different forms. In some cases, fentanyl is mixed with other drugs without the user’s knowledge. So a user may take a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl and assume the drug is something else entirely, such as marijuana or heroin. A high dose of fentanyl — as well as other opiate drugs — can cause an individual to stop breathing. The high potency of the drug fentanyl greatly increases the risk of overdose or even death.
One of the main reasons for the rapid spread of fentanyl use is that it offers a high profit margin for traffickers. For example, a trafficker can purchase a kilogram of fentanyl powder for a few thousand dollars from a Chinese supplier. Then the trafficker can transform it into hundreds of thousands of pills and sell them for millions of dollars in profit.5
The good news is that help is only a phone call away. If you are struggling with any form of drug abuse — especially related to opioids like fentanyl — please reach out to Michael’s House for help. Located in beautiful Palm Springs, California, we provide patients with integrated, comprehensive drug treatment programs for substance use and co-occurring mental health disorders. A simple phone call can change your life forever. Our admissions coordinators are ready to help you move forward in your recovery.
By Jim Woods
1 “Significant Fentanyl Seizures.” US Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Association, Accessed August 3, 2017.
2 Dibble, Sandra. “Fentanyl seizures, deaths raise alarm in San Diego.” The San Diego Union-Tribune, June 27, 2017.
3 “Fentanyl.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, June 2016.
4Drugs of Abuse: A DEA Resource Guide 2017 Edition. US Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Association, Accessed August 3, 2017.
5 “Fentanyl.” US Drug Enforcement Association, Accessed August 4, 2017.