Friday, February 5, 2016

Fentanyl: Drug 50 Times More Potent Than Heroin Ravages New Hampshire

Officer Shaun McKennedy’s first overdose call comes in at 6.39pm. He turns the sirens on and rushes over to 245 Laurel street, a midsize apartment building. There’s an abandoned baby carriage in the front yard. A man wearing a Bride of Chucky shirt peeps out of his doorway as McKennedy, 24, rushes upstairs.

Several men from the local fire department and EMT department are already there, hovering around the seemingly lifeless body of a 31-year-old man on the living room floor in a soaking wet T-shirt and jeans. It’s a situation McKennedy, 24, has been through dozens of times since he joined the force last July.

“Larry! Larry! Stay with us!” yells Justin Chase, a Manchester EMT medic. He injects naloxone, a medication that reverses the effects of opioids, up Larry’s nose.

His body shakes and his eyes pop open. “What’s up?” he asks, without blinking.

Larry agrees to go to the emergency room at Elliot hospital, but it will be several weeks before test results determine exactly what led to his overdose. It’s the first time he’s done that, he tells McKennedy later that night. Usually he injects between two and three grams of heroin a day; that evening he only took 0.2 grams, or a “pencil”. He’s not sure if he overdosed because he lost his tolerance – he says he’s been clean for just over two months – or if it was laced with fentanyl.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 100 times more powerful than morphine, and 30-50 times more powerful than heroin.

“Fentanyl is what is killing our citizens,” said Manchester’s chief of police, Nick Willard, in testimony before Congress last week. (...)

“It’s not like Mario Batali,” said Willard from his office in Manchester, comparing heroin dealers cutting their supply with the famed chef. “These guys are just throwing it in a mixer. You could get a bag that’s perfect and no one is going to die from it. You could also get a bag [that’s] straight fentanyl and that would kill you.”

Willard said that during a recent raid in Manchester, he found a dealer mixing fentanyl with whey protein. In another sting that led to a seizure in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the dealer was allegedly mixing heroin and fentanyl in a kitchen blender.

For the most part, said Willard, the story of opiate use in Manchester follows the same patterns as the rest of the country. The crisis was ushered in by the rise of prescription painkillers like OxyContin. Addicts looking for a cheaper high frequently turned to the more dangerous, yet significantly cheaper, heroin. (...)

To make matters worse for Manchester, DEA agent Tim Desmond says intelligence indicates that Mexican cartels, specifically El Chapo’s Sinaloa cartel, have increased poppy production 50% since last year and have been targeting the north-east.

Fentanyl was first developed in the 1960s as a general anesthetic, and it is still regularly administered by doctors, usually in the form of lozenges and patches, frequently for cancer patients.

Addicts have found ways to abuse the prescription forms of the drug, by sucking on the patches, for example. But more recently, Mexican cartels have learned how to make their own fentanyl by importing the necessary chemicals from China, then smuggling the product across the border and on to the interstate highway system, said Desmond.

by Susan Zalkind, The Guardian |  Read more:
Image: Alamy