Law enforcement sounding the alarm
The growing circulation of illicitly produced fentanyl and fentanyl analogues is prompting local law enforcement agencies to sound the alarm on dangerous fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills causing accidental overdoses and deaths among young people in Kansas City.
“Regional data shows that from 2019 to 2020, there was a 149% increase in fentanyl overdose deaths in the Kansas City metro area,” the Kansas City Missouri Police Department warned in a press release.
“According to the Midwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, the Kansas City metro reported the greatest increase (68%) in Missouri for all drug overdose deaths for ages 15-24 between 2019 and 2020. It also revealed that the greatest at-risk age group was ages 15-24, followed by 35-44. The next most at-risk age group was 25-34.”
Law enforcement officers are encouraging parents to have a conversation with their kids about the dangers of taking prescription pills that are not prescribed to them.
“These pills look very authentic, and it takes very little fentanyl to kill someone,” said Donna Drake, spokesperson for the Kansas City Missouri Police Department.
“The counterfeits resemble oxycodone 30 mg pills, often stamped M30,” states the press release. “Instead, they are laced with fentanyl.”
Drake said the Kansas City Police Department’s drug enforcement unit reports that “large quantities of these deadly pills are arriving in the Kansas City area on a weekly basis. It also wants parents to know that these counterfeits can arrive by mail or carrier, purchased online by teens and young adults. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), distributors use social media to sell these pills because these apps appeal to a younger audience. Additionally, drug traffickers target young kids and teens by creating pills in a variety of shapes and bright colors,” states the press release.
Drake said the conversation parents have with the kids could save their lives. Last year, more than 105,000 overdose deaths occurred in the United States and over 66 percent of those deaths were caused by fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.
Since the beginning of this year, there have been seven mass overdose events. The most recent occurred on March 10 in Wilton Manors, Fla. Six people overdosed after ingesting what they thought was conventional cocaine. Similarly, in early February eight individuals in St. Louis overdosed and all but one died after taking crack-cocaine laced with fentanyl.
“We aren’t aware of another substance circulating right now more dangerous than the national fentanyl crisis,” Drake added.
According to a drug fact sheet from the Department of Justice, fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid drug, which was first developed in 1959. By the 1960s fentanyl was being used intravenously to induce insensitivity to pain. Fentanyl is 80-100 times stronger than morphine and delivers various effects to the body, such as altering perception.
While pharmaceutical fentanyl has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use as a prescription pain reliever and anesthetic to treat severe pain, illicitly manufactured fentanyl has been linked to recent cases of fentanyl-related overdoses.
Some fentanyl-related overdoses are attributed to pharmaceutical fentanyl products that have had been stolen, fraudulently prescribed, and illegally distributed. The highly potent drug is being added to heroin to increase its potency and has caused a rising number of drug overdose deaths.
According to results from the National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), misuse of prescription pain relievers was the second most common type of illegal drug used in 202O. Marijuana was the most commonly used illegal drug-49.6 million.
Almost 9.3 million people misused prescription pain relievers, such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, tramadol, codeine, morphine, prescription fentanyl, buprenorphine, oxymorphone, and hydromorphone, Demerol, and methadone.
The survey indicates only .1 percent of people aged 12 or older in 2020 misused prescription fentanyl. Even so, this means that 356,000 people are regularly misusing prescription forms of fentanyl. That estimate may also not consider respondents who used illicitly manufactured fentanyl or those who used heroin containing traces of fentanyl.
According to the survey, a significant number of respondents said the main reason for misusing prescription pain relievers was to relieve physical pain (64.6 percent).
“Other common main reasons for misuse were to feel good or get high (11.3 percent) and to relax or relieve tension (8.1 percent). Less common main reasons among past year misusers of pain relievers included to help with feelings or emotions (5.6 percent), to help with sleep (4.5 percent), because they were “hooked” or needed to have the drug (2.3 percent), to experiment or see what the drug was like (1.4 percent), and to increase or decrease the effects of other drugs (0.9 percent),” states the results.
The high potency of fentanyl has had disastrous consequences on a number of communities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fentanyl analogues were involved in about 2,600 drug overdose deaths in 2012. Between 2011 and 2018, drug overdose deaths linked to fentanyl and other synthetic opioids rose from 2,666 in 2011 to 31,335 in 2018.
According to the most recent data, more than 150 people die every day from overdoses involving a synthetic opioid, including fentanyl.
Joseph J. Palamar, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate professor at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine and his team of experts gathered data from high intensity drug trafficking areas and found that the number of seizures of pills containing fentanyl rose from 68 in January of 2018 to 635 in December of 2021, and the total number of individual pills seized by law enforcement agencies increased from 42,202 to 2,089,186. Seizures of a powdery substance containing fentanyl rose from 424 to 1,539.
Drugs laced with even a trace amount of fentanyl can be deadly and it is not easily recognizable. Consequently, an overdose can lead to pinpoint pupils, clammy skin, cyanosis, coma, and respiratory failure.
Like other illicit drugs, fentanyl has a wide range of street names, including Apache, China Girl, China Town, Dance Fever, Goodfellas, Great Bear, Jackpot, King Ivory, Murder 8, and Tango & Cash.
Fentanyl comes in a variety of forms, such as pills, powders, patches, and oral transmucosal lozenges.
“Counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl also mimic Xanax, Adderall, and other prescription medications. Fentanyl can also be added to substances like marijuana, which can cause adverse reactions,” states the press release.
Earlier this year, Kansas City joined the DEA’s new “Operation Overdrive,” whose mission is targeted on identifying overdose “hot spots” and dismantling drug networks in drug trafficking areas.