Fentanyl in heroin is becoming an extremely popular trend that is killing thousands of people nationwide. Heroin has always been a “bad” drug, but fentanyl in heroin is a whole nother beast. Heroin has fundamentally changed over the years, and could even be replaced by deadly synthetic drugs in the near future.
Heroin has, for the better part of a century, been considered a “hard drug.” When heroin was first produced in the early 1900s, it was released as a non-addictive form of morphine by Beyer. People quickly found the drug to be far more potent and addicting than morphine, which leads to it being banned shortly after. This was not the end of heroin though. It quickly became a popular drug, manufactured in illicit labs and sold on the street. Heroin and cocaine became so popular that President Richard Nixon began a campaign which he called The War on Drugs. In 1970, he signed The Controlled Substances Act, which ranked drugs based on their danger, risk of abuse, and medical usefulness. Heroin was placed on Schedule I, the highest and most serious ranking. Scheduling I drugs are considered to be extremely dangerous, have a high risk of abuse, and have zero medical value. This immediately put into effect extremely harsh laws for heroin users, sellers, and manufacturers.
Fentanyl in Heroin Is Causing More Deaths – Not More Heroin Users
Though the country is currently under a prescription opioid crisis and overdose epidemic, heroin use has stayed fairly stagnant over the years. There are roughly the same amount of chronic heroin users today as there were in the year 2000 but, in the same amount of time, drug overdose deaths have more than quadrupled. The overwhelming majority of these deaths are caused by heroin. The reason for this is because heroin has fundamentally changed over the past decade. Not only have heroin manufacturers perfected the process of making heroin as strong as possible, drug dealers have begun adding their own ingredients to beef up the potency and to save money. Heroin is expensive to make and is getting more difficult to traffic into the country, which also drives up the price. Because of this, street-level drug dealers look for ways to cut their heroin without making the drug undesirable to consumers. One ingredient has become supreme in the game of cutting and selling heroin: a dangerous synthetic opiate called fentanyl.
Fentanyl was developed in 1959 by Janssen Pharmaceutical. Due to its potency (almost 100 times the strength of morphine), it quickly became a popular anesthetic in medical settings as well as a drug used for very severe breakthrough pain (pain that is not relieved by other painkillers). In the 1960s, the drug was introduced as an intravenous anesthetic under the brand name Sublimaze. The drug was popular in medical settings for surgery but was rarely ever found illicitly on the street or abused recreationally. The drug did not receive widespread attention until the mid-1990s when the fentanyl patch was developed. The patch was a transdermal system that released the drug into the body slowly over several days. It was very effective for treating chronic pain, especially for those suffering from terminal illnesses like cancer. Actiq also released a lollipop version of fentanyl, which was fast acting. These two medications began to divert to the black market because of the powerful high produced by the drug. People began abusing the transdermal patch, either by scraping off the film and injecting it or eating the film right off the patch. This would provide instant effects.
Why Fentanyl in Heroin Became Popular
Because the drug was so powerful and easy and cheap to develop, rogue labs or labs in foreign countries began producing mass quantities of the drug in the form of powder and selling it on the internet or smuggling it into the United States in more traditional methods. Heroin dealers quickly realized that putting fentanyl on heroin would not only save them money, it would also make their product far more potent. It was a win/win for drug dealers and the trend immediately exploded across the country.
Because fentanyl is 100 times stronger than morphine and can be 30-50 times stronger than heroin, many unsuspecting heroin users would overdose on this deadly drug combination. Inexperienced drug dealers also would not know the dosing quantities needed to put fentanyl in heroin without making it fatally potent. Many drug dealers would just use trial and error, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths nationwide. It is believed fentanyl is the primary reason drug overdose deaths have become the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, surpassing automobile accidents. Since the year 2000, more than a half a million people have died as a result of drug overdose.
These trends have no indication of slowing down. There are now several fentanyl analog drugs being developed to undermine law enforcement, develop even cheaper alternatives, and even stronger alternatives. One fentanyl analog drug, known as carfentanil, has already been found in multiple locations in the United States. Carfentanil is sending shivers among law enforcement and drug users alike, as the drug can be as potent as 5,000 times stronger than heroin and 10,000 times stronger than morphine. Foreign countries, like China, are already taking action to help limit the manufacturing of these deadly synthetic opiates but, as technology advances, it is likely more drugs like these will continue to be developed and used to replace heroin.