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Increase In Deaths Linked To Increase Use Of Fentanyl Being Mixed With Other Drugs
TUESDAY, MARCH 8, 2022
In 2020 the Jackson County Drug Task Force recovered 3,228 pills laced with fentanyl. Each and every one was a potential “poison pill,” warned the Task Force’s Officer-In-Charge, Dan Cummings.
We stressed on our website in the fall of 2020 the seizure of these pills “sounds alarms.” The proliferation of the fake pills posed—and continues to pose—an increasingly deadly threat. Just how deadly has been borne out in data the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services (DHSS) has collected:
• Between 2019 and 2020, overdose deaths attributed to fentanyl in the Kansas City metropolitan area rose 149%.
• From 2019 through 2021, overdose fatality rates increased across every region of Missouri—across each age group and among both males and females.
• Comparing 2019 to ’21, total overdose deaths rose 49% in Missouri, with a 56% increase due to all opioids (heroin, fentanyl, etc.) and a 91% increase due to cocaine.
‘Widely Available’ & ‘More Lethal’
Five months ago we again rung the alarm, stressing that in Jackson County counterfeit pills were “widely available” and becoming even “more lethal.” And as 2021 drew to a close, the number of fentanyl pills the Drug Task Force seized in our county reached 12,943 for the year—a 301% increase compared to 2020.
“This is a very dangerous situation because the people buying these pills don’t know what they’re getting,” Cummings said after The Office of National Drug Control Policy recently released statements about rising fatal overdose rates across the Midwest High Intensity Drug Traffic Area (HIDTA).
“We’ve got people getting killed,” Cummings continued, “and drug traffickers don’t care just as long as they can keep making money.”
A LETHAL DOSE OF FENTANYL COMPARED TO A PENNY
A Lethal Speck (0.00007 Ounce)
Ingesting two milligrams of fentanyl—that’s only seven hundred thousandths of an ounce (0.00007)—is enough to kill a person. The synthetic opioid can be used essentially as a filler in producing counterfeit pills that drug dealers pass off as legitimate, though illegally-obtained, prescription medications.
“Counterfeit prescription drugs now saturate Midwestern illicit drug markets,” a Midwest HIDTA Overdose Response Strategy bulletin noted. (Between 2018 and 2021, Midwest HIDTA law enforcement seizures of fentanyl jumped 204%.)
'Red Lips—The Kiss Of Death'
In addition to fake pills, the Jackson County Drug Task Force has also recovered fentanyl mixed with methamphetamine. This fentanyl-meth combination has been distributed widely in the five-state region in plastic bags featuring a “red lips” logo. (HIDTA IMAGE)
The red lips might have been a metaphor for “kiss of death” as a series of overdoses in the Midwest in January were traced to the fentanyl/meth that came from these baggies.
» Counterfeit Pill—'Widely Available' & 'More Lethal'
Prescription pills not obtained from a licensed pharmacy are not only illegal to possess, but when taken can also be dangerous. There’s a good chance those pills might be fakes with potentially fatal side effects. According to the DEA, counterfeit pills are “widely available” and “more lethal than ever before.” Seizures of phony pills containing fentanyl have increased 420% since 2019. Just two milligrams of fentanyl can be a deadly dose.
» Task Force Seizes Fentanyl-Laced Pills
A two milligram dose of fentanyl can be lethal. That’s why the Jackson County Drug Task Force’s seizure of 3,000 pills stamped as OxyContin but laced with fentanyl almost certainly saved lives—and sounded alarms. As COMBAT Director Vince Ortega points out, swallowing a tablet with fentanyl in it “could be every bit as deadly as biting down on a cyanide capsule.” While morphine is 1½ times stronger than oxycodone, the semi-synthetic opioid in OxyContin, fentanyl is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine.
A Deadly Additive
Fentanyl has become what you might call the choice additive for drug dealers, despite the often deadly consequences. They use it because its potent and lowers their overhead costs when manufacturing counterfeit pills or mixing fentanyl with other drugs, such as heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine.
Why Is Fentanyl So Dangerous?
As the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) points out, “Producing illicit fentanyl is not an exact science.” And drug dealers often get it wrong. DEA analysis has found counterfeit pills with fentanyl content ranging from .02 to 5.1 milligrams—with 2.0 milligrams being considered a lethal dose depending on a person’s size, tolerance and previous usage.
The odds of not getting a “poison pill” with at least 2 milligrams of fentanyl is probably not much better than 50-50. Of the counterfeit pills the DEA tests, 42% contain a lethal dosage—or more.
Too much fentanyl—and, again, too much is actually very little—can cause a coma and respiratory failure leading to death.
The synthetic opioid is being blended with various other opioids, including brorphine, to create a drug law enforcement agencies have sporadically encountered, Brorphine/Para-Flurofentanyl (pFF), which is more commonly referred to as “Purple Heroin.”
“Fetty” is a “relatively newer fentanyl mixture,” according to Midwest High Intensity Drug Traffic Area (HIDTA) officials. It combines various opioids and binding agents. “Law enforcement routinely encounter fentanyl mixtures that vary in both appearance and contents,” the Midwest HIDTA pointed out.
The aptly named mixture “Grey Death” has been in existence since at least 2017 and blends opioids with both binding agents, chemicals and other illicit drugs. The Grey Death cocktail often includes drugs that are each individually more potent than heroin, the most prominent being fentanyl.