Deaths attributed to cocaine cut with fentanyl are on the rise in Florida. This deadly mix is responsible for a 97 percent increase in overdose deaths in 2016.
This article examines why the growing prevalence of cocaine cut with fentanyl represents such a danger both to those who have substance abuse disorders and law enforcement officers who encounter fentanyl in the performance of their duties.
Florida Drug Rehab Fights Fentanyl Addiction
According to the Miami Herald, in late December last year, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a warning about a new synthetic cocaine laced with fentanyl. Cocaine-related deaths in Miami-Dade County have doubled over the last four years.
Fentanyl is a Schedule II opioid that is up to 100 times stronger than morphine. Just 2 milligrams of this substance can kill the average adult. Fentanyl has a number of sub-category drugs – one is Carfentanil, which is a synthetic (human-made) opioid that is 10,0000 more potent than morphine.
Fentanyl originated as an intravenous analgesic call Sublimaze, according to the DEA. The pain reliever evolved into a patch, a nasal spray, an IV drip, and even a lollipop. In the ’90s, the DEA discovered illegal fentanyl labs in the US. By the early 2000s, law enforcement began to notice an increase in overdose deaths from a heroin and fentanyl mix. By 2013, fentanyl began being mixed with other opioids or manufactured illegally as a synthetic opioid. By 2015 these deaths had increased by more than 72 percent over past years.
Today, these illegal drugs are manufactured in the US but also imported from other countries such as China and Mexico. These illegal forms of the drug are spliced with cocaine or heroin or used as part of counterfeit tablets for pharmaceuticals similar to oxycodone or hydrocodone.
Fentanyl is extremely dangerous for both drug users and for law enforcement because the drug can be absorbed through the skin or eyes or inhaled through the mouth or nose. Just a small amount can be deadly, so it is an extreme health hazard. The DEA’s fact sheet for law enforcement says:
“There is a significant threat to law enforcement personnel, and other first responders, who may come in contact with fentanyl and other fentanyl-related substances through routine law enforcement, emergency or life-saving activities.”
For this reason, the DEA recommends a full contaminant HAZMAT bodysuit and filtered respirator be worn whenever dealing with fentanyl. First responders that may encounter the drug should wear gloves, masks, eye protection, and wear shoe covers. Law enforcement and medical personnel are advised to not enter a property without adequate protection – the risks are really that high.
Increasingly fentanyl is in crystallized form, which makes it look like meth or cocaine, which can fool law enforcement, with potentially deadly results. Law enforcement and medical team can be accidentally exposed when serving a warrant or executing a search, or even processing a crime scene. Exposure to even a small quantity through exposure to the skin or inhaled can cause respiratory depression, other ill effects, or even, death.