Cocaine Cut With Fentanyl Discovered, Officials Say It 'Changes The Game'

By Britni de la Cretaz 10/26/17

A few samples of the deadly combination were recently found in Tennessee.

a penny next to an ounce of fentanyl
courtesy of DEA

Fentanyl is contributing to rising opioid overdose rates in the United States. The synthetic opioid is often used to cut heroin and make it more potent. But now, cocaine has been found with traces of fentanyl. Scientists in Tennessee found three samples of cocaine laced with the drug.

This is surprising since cocaine, a stimulant that is known to be more of a “party drug,” is not usually mixed with opioids. It’s also dangerous, because it may be opening up a new population to the addictive properties of opioids. It could also mean that unsuspecting people are ingesting the drug.

T.J. Jordan, assistant director at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, told USA Today that this discovery “changes the game.” Patrick O’Shea, a former drug user who is now a call-center manager at Addiction Campuses, said that if this becomes a trend, it’s “shaping up to be a disaster.”

The mixing of fentanyl and heroin has been a growing trend for some time, but it's been turning up in cocaine as well.

Fentanyl was found in only 12 samples of illicit drugs analyzed by the TBI in 2013, the agency told USA Today. Contrast that with 2017, when the drug has been found in 320 samples and counting.

There have been a rash of warnings regarding the mixing of the two drugs throughout this year. The New York City Health Department issued a release about the phenomenon of people overdosing with just cocaine and fentanyl, and no heroin, in their systems.

Of the approximately 1,300 people in New York City who died of a drug overdose during 2016, 37% of those deaths involved only cocaine and fentanyl. That number was up from 11% in the previous year.

It was also suspected that fentanyl-laced cocaine was causing overdoses in Cleveland, Ohio. However, it could also have been attributed to users speed-balling with the two substances. And in New Haven, Connecticut, a rash of overdoses last year were linked to fentanyl that had been sold to unsuspecting buyers as cocaine.

"What's so unusual about this situation in New Haven is that it looks as if these people were not opioid users or opioid addicts,” Raymond Isackila, an addiction specialist at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center in Ohio, told ABC News at the time.

This is consistent with the concerns that a new demographic of people were being exposed to the powerful drug through its mixing with cocaine.

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.