Man-made narcotic fentanyl is killing more and more people in America’s urban centers at an alarming rate, a new analysis has shown.
The rate of deaths in cities related to the synthetic opioid shot up 600 percent from 2014 to 2016, with the steepest increases seen in New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Cleveland.
East Coast cities have traditionally had higher overdose rates but the numbers emphasize how cities like Chicago – where the death rate saw a 2,700 percent increase – are being ravaged by fentanyl.
The drug – which can be 50 times stronger than heroin – killed 582 people in large cities in 2014. And by 2016, that number was up to 3,946.
As America struggles to control the escalating opioid crisis, officials warn that the fentanyl death rate will only increase in 2017, according to the new analysis of CDC data by the Washington Post.
The number of fentanyl overdose deaths in America’s largest cities rapidly increased between 2014 and 2016, as the synthetic opioid’s role in the drug crisis continues to grow
In Philadelphia nine people died of a fentanyl overdose in 2012. In 2014, that total rose to 100 and it quadrupled in 2016.
The city’s health commissioner, Thomas Farley, said in the new report that Philadelphia is averaging 100 fentanyl overdose deaths a month this year.
The number of people who overdosed on fentanyl statewide in Pennsylvania – which has been hit particularly hard by the opioid crisis – jumped to 2,000 last year.
This marks the first time in recent history that heroin was not the deadliest overdose drug in Pennsylvania.
‘If anything can be likened to a weapon of mass destruction in what it can do to a community, it’s fentanyl. It’s manufactured death,’ Michael Ferguson of the Drug Enforcement Administration told the Washington Post.
Farley agreed, saying that he predicts fentanyl will kill more people than the AIDS epidemic.
‘You’d have to go back to the influenza pandemic of 1918 if you even wanted to start making comparisons,’ he said.
America’s drug crisis killed about 60,000 people last year – and half of those deaths were attributed to opioids.
Fentanyl can be ordered from China or bought from Mexico and it is wildly profitable for traffickers
Fentanyl specifically has proven particularly dangerous and experts think one reason for this is that people often do not know it has been mixed in with other drugs they buy.
People addicted to fentanyl have started buying street versions of the prescription drug – which is often suggested to treat severe pain associated with advanced cancer.
OTHER NAMES FOR ILLICIT FENTANYL
The legal versions of fentanyl are prescribed to alleviate severe pain associated with advanced cancer.
Illegally-made fentanyl, which can be ordered from China or bought from Mexico, is often mixed with heroin or cocaine.
Other names for the drug purchased on the dark web or from a trafficker include:
- China Girl
- China Town
- Dance Fever
- Great Bear
- King Ivory
- Murder 8
- Tango & Cash
The illegally-made version is commonly mixed in with heroin or cocaine to make their effects stronger.
In 2016 the CDC reported that ‘most of the increases in fentanyl deaths over the last three years do not involve prescription fentanyl but are related to illicitly-made fentanyl that is being mixed with or sold as heroin – with or without users’ knowledge – and increasing as counterfeit pills.’
Last year a New Haven, Connecticut, hospital treated 12 patients for overdoses in just eight hours. All of them thought they were using cocaine but had purchased fentanyl instead and a quarter of the patients died.
In Philadelphia, at least 162 people died from a fentanyl-cocaine concoction last year. That translates to almost one death from the combination every other day.
And in New York, of the 600 fentanyl-related overdose deaths last year, 115 were caused by that same mixture.
The steep increase in fentanyl-cocaine deaths over the past couple of years was present in Cleveland too.
The medical examiner in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County said that cocaine laced with fentanyl doubled the number of African American fentanyl-related deaths last year.
For those without a fentanyl prescription, finding the illicit drug is relatively easy.
According to the DEA – despite efforts to tame its effects in the US – fentanyl has become more widely available in recent years.
Fentanyl is supplied to people in the US by online orders from China as well as drug trafficking from Mexico.
‘The supply lines for fentanyl and heroin are often essentially the same. Heroin traffickers who travel to the Southwest border to purchase heroin now also purchase fentanyl from the same Southwest border sources of supply,’ the DEA said.
The DEA pointed out that the drug is wildly profitable for traffickers.
Traffickers can buy a kilogram of the drug in powder form from a Chinese supplier for a few thousand dollars.
From there, they can create from that one kilogram hundreds of thousands of pills and sell the counterfeit pills for millions of dollars.