America’s opioid epidemic took a turn for the worse in August, with an outbreak of overdoses, particularly in the Ohio River Valley region, that have put local authorities on alert for new drugs being mixed into heroin which are 50 to 10,000 times more powerful than morphine.
Starting Aug. 15 in Huntington, W. Va., when 26 people there overdosed between 3:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., heroin users have been rushed to the emergency rooms in droves after injecting substances believed to contain fentanyl, a synthetic analgesic, and carfentanil, an elephant tranquilizer.
In a four-day span between Aug. 20 and 26 in Hamilton, Co., Ohio, 174 opioid induced overdoses occurred resulting in at least three deaths; On Aug. 23, 13 cases were reported in Jennings Co., Ind.; and the following day in Montgomery Co., Ky., 12 overdoses.
The Ohio Valley isn’t the only area hit hard by the dirty heroin explosion, however. In July alone, 23 people died from fentanyl or carfentanil laced heroin in Akron, Ohio; 17 perished in New Haven, Conn. within a single week; 12 in Sacramento, Calif., since January; nine in the state of Florida; and two in Jefferson Co., Ala., in July.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported on Aug. 26 that between 2013 and 2014, police seizures resulted in the finding of 426 percent more fentanyl-laced drugs and a 79 percent increase in synthetic opioid-caused deaths for the same period in 27 states.
“These (heroin dealers) are intentionally putting in drugs they know can kill someone,” said Newtown, OH, police chief and Cincinnati heroin task force head, Tom Synan. “The benefit for them is if the user survives, it is such a powerful high for them, they tend to come back. . . . If one or two people die, they could care less. They know the supply is so big right now that if you lose some customers, in their eyes, there’s always more in line.”
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Sinalou and Jalisco New Generation Mexican drug cartels are largely responsible for the influx of fentanyl and carfenanil in the United States. The former in particular is primarily imported from China in pill or chemical form and then pressed into tablets.
Fetanyl pill manufacturing operations, which are made to look like oxycodone, a less potent painkiller, have also been busted this year in New York and Los Angeles.
DEA spokesman Russ Baer says using these drugs to supplement heroin is a lucrative business for Mexican and U.S. drug dealers, which can be produced at a cost of $3,000 to $4,000 per kilogram, the same as heroin.
“That one kilo of fentanyl can produce between 16 and 24 kilos [of drug product], ultimately yielding profits of $1.3 million after it’s sold on the streets,” said Baer.
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