DEA issues alert on fentanyl after overdoses

March 18, 2015

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on March 18 issued a nationwide alert about the dangers of fentanyl and fentanyl analogues/compounds.

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on March 18 issued a nationwide alert about the dangers of fentanyl and fentanyl analogues/compounds.

A Schedule II narcotic used as an analgesic and anesthetic – the most potent opioid available for use in medical treatment – fentanyl is the culprit in a growing number of overdoses, seizures and deaths, according to the agency.

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“Drug incidents and overdoses related to fentanyl are occurring at an alarming rate throughout the U.S. and represent a significant threat to public health and safety,” said DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. “Often laced in heroin, fentanyl and fentanyl analogues produced in illicit clandestine labs are up to 100 times more powerful than morphine and 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin.”

New Jersey realized a huge spike in fentanyl deaths in 2014, reporting as many as 80 in the first six months of the fiscal year, according to the DEA. The New Hampshire State Laboratory also recently reported four fentanyl overdose deaths within a two-month period.

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Rhode Island and Pennsylvania have also seen huge increases since 2013. In a 15-month period, about 200 deaths related to fentanyl were reported in Pennsylvania. In the St. Louis area, based on information provided by medical examiners over a 10-year period, fentanyl was the only drug attributed as a primary death factor in 44% of overdose cases.

In the last two years, the DEA has also seen a significant resurgence in fentanyl-related seizures. According to the National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS), state and local labs reported 3,344 fentanyl submissions in 2014, up from 942 in 2013. In addition, DEA has identified 15 other fentanyl-related compounds.

Fentanyl cases in 2014 have been significant, particularly in the northeast and in California, including one 12-kilogram seizure. The fentanyl from these seizures originated from Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

This is not the first time fentanyl has posed such a threat to public health and safety. Between 2005 and 2007, over 1,000 U.S. deaths were attributed to fentanyl – many of which occurred in Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia. The source of that fentanyl was traced to a single lab in Mexico. When that lab was identified and dismantled, the surge ended.

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