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Fentanyl: Powerful poison may be fueling overdoses

Value of over $30 million narcotics seized

Value of over $30 million narcotics seized from a residence. Credit: Special Narcotics Prosecutor’s Office NYC

Fentanyl, an opioid that’s 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine (depending on the dosage), does have legitimate clinical use.

It’s prescribed primarily in a transdermal patch that’s used for those in extreme pain — late-stage cancer patients, for example.

Back in 2015, we published an exclusive report following an inverview with the Drug Enforcement Administration that revealed addicts and dealers were spiking their heroin with fentanyl to provide a more intense, euphoric high.

At that point, the additive being used was primarily produced by taking the patches, scraping out the medication, drying it and adding it to the heroin.

“It makes you feel like you’re Superman,” said Michael, an addict we spoke with at the time.

He’d been in and out of drug rehabs for years, and we have no idea if he’s still alive.

As District Attorney Michael McMahon revealed another troubling spike in overdoses — nine in only four days, with four of them fatal — he stated: “Let this serve as a warning to anyone who is currently using or knows someone who is: The narcotics on the street right now are deadly.”

And this could be why: Two years and literally hundreds of overdoses after we first reported on the use of fentanyl-spiked heroin, the borough is facing an even more frightening and deadly threat.

It’s fentanyl, but not the controlled and labeled dosage kind you get at the pharmacy.

It’s bricks of the stuff that’s reportedly being made in and smuggled from factories in China.

No one, not even law enforcement officials who have made large drug busts that include the “homemade” version, know just how powerful it is until each batch is tested.

There have been reports that some is so potent that handling it without rubber gloves will produce a high as it’s absorbed by the skin.

Word is the borough is flooded with this drug and there’s little doubt that it has added deaths to the relentless overdose rate.

A Mid-Island physician who treats addiction said recently that he’s been swamped by users who are hooked on pure fentanyl — the unpredictable and very deadly “homemade” version.

He pointed out that it presents a serious problem in caring for those who come for help.

The use of Medicine Assisted Treatment (MAT) with Suboxone or other medications is not as effective for those hooked on fentanyl, the doctor said.

And when it comes to using the OD-reversal drug naloxone, much higher doses are needed when the addict used a heroin-fentanyl mixture, and often does not work at all when it’s pure fentanyl.

Through his Overdose Response Initiative and other creative approaches to the borough’s drug crisis, our district attorney has succeeded in doing several crucial things.

He’s executed major drug busts, created the web portal that provides education and links to treatment options, and, when appropriate, his office diverts addicts to treatment instead of jail.

All we can do at this point is join McMahon and repeat the plea we’ve made before to the family and friends of those who are battling addiction: Get them into a detox and treatment before they become another heartbreaking statistic.


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