Authorities are issuing a warning over the increasing prevalence of fentanyl in cocaine, a potent painkiller that could make any encounter with the drug fatal.
Officials revealed that scientists at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) detected fentanyl, a synthetic opioid roughly 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, in three cocaine samples for the first time in the state. T.J. Jordan, assistant director at the TBI, said the finding is disturbing due to the popularity of cocaine as a party drug, reports USA Today.
Jordan said the longstanding practice by drug dealers of cutting fentanyl into heroin supplies is now being employed for cocaine. The dealers do this to increase the potency of the cocaine, and to potentially add a more addictive element to keep the user coming back. The relative cheapness of fentanyl also allows the dealers to expand the supply of their narcotics to maximize profits.
Drug dealers can order a kilogram of fentanyl through the mail from China for as little as $2,000. While fentanyl-laced cocaine is already cropping up in states throughout the country, officials in Tennessee had yet to confirm its presence in the state. Officials said at the press conference Friday that the situation is “shaping up to be a disaster.”
Since cocaine is largely considered a social drug, officials fear users are largely unaware of the potential risks of fentanyl overdose when using the substance.
“To be blunt, what you might buy and use, thinking it’s a good time, could cost you your life,” Jordan said Friday, according to USA Today.
Fentanyl overtook heroin as the deadliest substance in the U.S. in 2016. Synthetic opioids, including fentanyl and its analogs, claimed roughly 20,100 lives in 2016, up from 9,945.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates cocaine overdose deaths increased from roughly 4,000 in 2009 to more than 6,700 in 2015. Officials say cocaine overdose deaths are about to explode in 2017 to nearly 11,000.
The Drug Enforcement Administration issued new guidance to police departments across the country in June on how to handle heroin and other narcotics due to the increasing prevalence of fentanyl. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein warned it only takes two milligrams of fentanyl, “the equivalent of a few grains of table salt,” to cause a fatal overdose.
The National Center for Health Statistics, part of the CDC, released its first preliminary report in August giving an accounting of drug overdose deaths in 2016. The CDC estimates that drug deaths rose by more than 22 percent in 2016, with 64,070 Americans suffering a fatal overdose that year, driven primarily by fentanyl.
Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death for Americans under 50.
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