Shortage of Injectable Fentanyl is Latest Consequence Of Opioid Epidemic

By John Lavitt 02/24/16

The FDA has announced a national shortage of the synthetic narcotic as street sales rise.

Shortage of Injectable Fentanyl Latest Consequence Of Opioid Epidemic
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On February 19, the Food and Drug Administration announced a national shortage of fentanyl citrate, the injectable generic version of the opioid surgical drug. Also known under the brand name Sublimaze, the Schedule II prescription drug is a tremendously potent narcotic analgesic. It tends to only be used in hospitals for advanced procedures like open heart surgery. 

As opposed to the fentanyl patch or the fentanyl lozenge, fentanyl citrate is the preferred form of the powerful opioid by street level drug abusers and addicts. The fentanyl patch can sometimes help in the treatment of chronic pain patients who have become physically tolerant to normative opioids and prescription painkillers like Vicodin or Percocet. It cannot be injected and is not as powerful as fentanyl citrate. This is why the supply of the fentanyl patch or lozenge are not being threatened.

Such a national shortage of Sublimaze reveals how fentanyl citrate has become the latest major consequence of the national opioid epidemic. Fentanyl is now considered to be the most hardcore narcotic offering of drug dealers across the country, leading to a rash of overdoses. Stolen from hospitals, the result of such abuse is the FDA-announced shortage, threatening legitimate patients in need.

As a powerful synthetic opiate analgesic, fentanyl typically is used to treat patients with severe pain, or to manage pain after surgery. According to the CDC, “Fentanyl is estimated to be 80 times as potent as morphine and hundreds of times more potent than heroin.”

Street names for fentanyl citrate include Apache, Dance Fever, Jackpot, Murder 8, TNT, and, strangely enough, Tango & Cash, a reference to a mediocre buddy cop movie starring Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell. Although now being produced in clandestine laboratories in powder form to be injected, the illegal version of the drug does not compare to the power and purity of the pharmaceutical version. Real fentanyl citrate currently is being mixed by drug dealers with street-sold heroin or cocaine, markedly amplifying the potency of the drug and the potential dangers.

In response to the rise in fentanyl trafficking, Massachusetts passed a new law that went into effect on February 23. According to the new legislation signed and promoted by Governor Charlie Baker, selling the synthetic opioid in amounts greater than 10 grams is now punishable by up to 20 years in state prison. A major problem nationwide has been lax sentencing related to prescription opioid drug dealing when compared to heroin trafficking.

“Fentanyl is claiming the lives of people across our state. This new law gives law enforcement the tools they need to prosecute those who traffic this dangerous drug,” explained Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey in a statement. “More and more, law enforcement is finding heroin laced with this powerful synthetic opioid or being sold in its pure form. This new law will help us combat trafficking and help keep communities safe.” 

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.