DEA Warns of Surge in Overdoses from Fentanyl-Laced Heroin

By May Wilkerson 03/20/15

The nationwide warning about a "significant threat to public health and safety" is better late than never.

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Heroin laced with the potent narcotic fentanyl has led to a surge of deaths from overdose, prompting the Drug Enforcement Administration to issue a nationwide warning this week.

"Drug incidents and overdoses related to fentanyl are occurring at an alarming rate," said DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart on Wednesday, calling it a "significant threat to public health and safety."

Up to 100 times stronger than morphine, fentanyl is the most powerful opioid available to doctors. It is intended to treat extreme pain in patients with late-stage severe illnesses, like bone cancer.

But it’s increasingly finding its way into illegal drugs, like heroin, on the black market. Seizures of illegal drugs containing fentanyl more than tripled between 2013 and 2014, according to the National Forensic Laboratory Information System, which reported 3,344 fentanyl seizures in 2014, up from 942 in 2013.

"These drugs, opioids and opiates, are killing people, especially when you're buying them off the street. You don't know what you're getting," said New Jersey law enforcement official Lt. Juan Colon. "If you do drugs, you're taking a gamble."

The drug is so strong that officials handling it in labs are warned as it can be absorbed through the skin or accidentally inhaled.

Law enforcement officials across the country are cracking down. Last week, two men in New York were charged with dealing fentanyl-laced heroin after one of their alleged customers overdosed and died in February. According to court documents, the dealer warned his customer via text message to be careful with the heroin since it contained fentanyl.

In October, three men were indicted in Massachusetts for dealing fentanyl and heroin following a number of overdose deaths in Salem.

During the last epidemic of fentanyl-laced heroin, which occurred between 2005 and 2007, more than 1,000 people died in the Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia areas.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.