Drug traffickers are increasingly ordering shipments of fentanyl, a potent opiate-based painkiller, from China at a fraction of the cost of heroin from cartels in Mexico.
Fentanyl, known to be 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, is thought a key factor in the explosion of opioid overdose deaths across the country since 2010. The substance is so powerful that even touching it or coming in contact with it in the air can be fatal, and dealers continue to turn to it in droves to cut into their heroin batches. While a kilogram of heroin from a Mexican cartel will cost a domestic supplier roughly $64,000, they can order a kilogram of fentanyl through the mail from China for only $2,000, reports The Baltimore Sun.
Shipping through the mail also cuts out the need for middlemen and saves the supplier the risks of working with violent cartels. The presence of fentanyl is exacerbating the opioid epidemic and making it harder for officials to successfully treat individuals suffering from addiction.
“You can have all the treatment you want but if they’re taking fentanyl…they’re not going to be in treatment,” Van Mitchell, the former Maryland health secretary, told The Baltimore Sun. “They’re going to be dead.”
Maryland is getting ravaged by opioid abuse and officials are struggling to combat rising deaths from overdoses, partly due to the influx of fentanyl. Opioids claimed 1,089 lives in Maryland in 2015, but officials expect that number to surge past 2,000 when final data on 2016 deaths is released.
The presence of fentanyl is causing a new problem for police conducting drug raids throughout the country. In the chaos of a major drug bust, the powder can go airborne, poisoning officers exposed. Police are now cautioned to avoid field-testing due to the risk of exposure.
Fatal overdoses from heroin quadrupled over the last five years, according to data released by the National Center for Health Statistics Friday. They say the massive increase in heroin and general opioid abuse in the U.S. since 2010 is driven by lower drug prices and ingredients with higher potency, like fentanyl.
Authors of the study note in 2010 only eight percent of all fatal drug overdoses stemmed from heroin. In 2015 roughly 25 percent of fatal drug overdoses were caused by heroin. Opioid deaths contributed to the first drop in U.S. life expectancy since 1993 and eclipsed deaths from motor vehicle accidents in 2015.
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