Heroin users are cutting their heroin with a deadly chemical in hopes of bringing themselves 'as close to the line as possible'
There is an alarming new trend among heroin users.
They're mixing the drug with the synthetic opiate fentanyl — an anesthetic that is 30-to-50 times more potent than heroin, and infinitely more deadly.
"The big thing with heroin users now is finding heroin laced with fentanyl," explains Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Spokesperson Matthew Barden to Business Insider. "Fentanyl to the touch in its pure form will kill you by touching it."
Barden recalls an addict who used heroin laced with fentanyl explaining his decision:
The junkie said, "Hey, ya know what? We all know that it could very well kill us, but that is exactly what we are looking for. To get as close to the line as we can possibly get," Barden said.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opiate analgesic that is 80-to-100 times more potent than morphine.
It is used to treat patients with severe pain or to manage pain after surgery. Street names for the drug include Apache, China girl, China white, dance fever, friend, goodfella, jackpot, murder 8, TNT, as well as Tango and Cash.
It works by binding to the brain's opiate receptors to drive up dopamine levels and produce a state of euphoria and relaxation. The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that cutting fentanyl with street-sold heroin amplifies its potency and potential danger. Effects can include drowsiness, respiratory depression and arrest, nausea, confusion, constipation, unconsciousness, coma and, as Barden notes, death.
"It takes very little for someone to overdose on it, to cause the level of respiratory depression that would cause you to die," DEA spokesperson Barbara Carreno told Reuters.
Mexican cartels produce a variant called acetyl fentanyl and smuggle it into the United States for distribution, according to an NPR report. The DEA warns that all around America, drug dealers are cutting heroin with acetyl fentanyl to drive up the potency of their product.
"If you make that right mix, everyone loves your stuff," Angelo Alonzo, a recovering addict who tried heroin laced with fentanyl, told NPR. "But, you know, that right mix might kill some people, too."
NPR adds that heroin laced with acetyl fentanyl can fetch a higher price on the street, and the DEA says it is not included in many screens for toxic drugs.
In a period from late 2013 through 2014, federal officials estimate that there were at least 700 fentanyl-related deaths nationwide. More recently, reports of fentanyl overdoses have spread like wildfire.
This week, Maine Gov. Paul LePage convened a summit to address the heroin crisis in his state, calling on the National Guard to aid in efforts to thwart drug traffickers.
"In July alone, we suspect that approximately one death a day in Maine was due to a drug overdose of some sort," Maine Attorney General Janet Mills told NPR. "We are confirming this with laboratory testing, but a substantial number of those involved fentanyl."
While Barden calls the issue "maddening," the bitter irony is that addicts want heroin laced with the deadly chemical.
"The sad thing is that when people hear that people are dropping or dying out there, that is usually when an addict wants that specific stuff," Alonzo told NPR.
"They think that the high is unbelievable. And they want it, and you can understand why. But that is a tough call, you are playing with your life."
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