Fentanyl-laced cocaine deaths are on the rise in America, and it’s terrifying. As the pandemic looms for what seems like forever, more and more people are turning to self-medication. For many Americans that drug of choice is cocaine, the euphoriant commonly known as “the party drug.” It is one of the most commonly used drugs in the country and many of its users are everyday citizens who you wouldn’t describe as addicts. But dealers are now selling cocaine that is laced with fentanyl, one of the most deadly drugs on the streets, and it’s killing people. Comic Fuquan Johnson and two others died at a small get-together on September 4th from overdosing after ingesting cocaine laced with fentanyl. But celebrities aren’t the only people dying from cocaine with traces of fentanyl. In August, six people died within three days in Long Island after a batch of cocaine laced with fentanyl began to circulate in some of the island’s small towns. They were all younger than 40-years-old. Lincoln and Omaha Nebraska reported 21 overdoses from cocaine-laced fentanyl in just six days.
Warnings have been issued all over the country about spikes in overdoses due to this lethal combination. The drugs are rarely used in the same scenes and affect the body very differently, so why is this even a thing?
What is fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a highly addictive synthetic opioid that is prescribed by doctors to rid breakthrough pain from medical procedures or cancer patients. The Schedule II drug can also be used as a part of anesthesia to help reduce pain after surgery. Overdosing on the drug can cause respiratory failure, a coma, permanent brain damage, or death. Its potency is estimated to be 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin. Because the opioid is so strong, a small amount could cause an overdose.
Fentanyl is also highly addictive and cheap to produce, which makes it an enticing option for drug dealers looking to stretch their product. It is frequently sold on the black market as powder, small candies, eye droppers, nasal sprays, or in pill form made to mimic other prescription opioids. It’s also commonly mixed with heroin, methamphetamine, and MDMA.
Why is fentanyl being laced with cocaine?
Why would drug dealers lace their cocaine with fentanyl and risk the lives of their clients? It doesn’t seem like very good business logic if you kill your customer, but for long time heroin users the drug may not be as deadly. Since heroin users have built up a tolerance for opioids, they frequently seek the drug as an alternative. Drug dealers then add fentanyl to their supply, often using it to stretch the more expensive heroin. Some researchers believe many dealers are creating these drug cocktails in their homes; They are not licensed or trained in using the extremely dangerous drugs and accidents happen. White powders are mixed with white powders and neither the dealer nor the consumer knows what they’re getting. Other researchers suspect dealers may also be unknowingly buying the cocaine already laced. This scenario is harder to monitor due to the black market’s ability to hide their networks.
“We’re seeing the usual cocaine users,” said Dina Kharieh, co-director of programs at St. Ann’s Corner of Harm Reduction in the Bronx during an interview with NPR. “We’re also seeing heroin users who probably don’t have access to their usual supply, maybe due to COVID.”
These two types of users are completely different in their drug use. This suggests many cocaine users have no idea they are getting fentanyl. According to the NIDA, there were 70,630 reported drug overdose deaths in 2019, almost 40,000 primarily involving fentanyl. That number looks to rise in 2021 and beyond as dealers look to get richer and addicts look to get higher. The problem is the average cocaine user never asked for any of this, but they will be the ones who suffer the most.