Fentanyl sales are becoming more common across the US as well as North America as a substitute for heroin and other opiates, leading to disastrous results. The medical painkiller that is 50 times stronger than heroin, which often leaves even experienced drug users in a state of overdose. Overdoses are difficult to counteract with opioid-reversing drugs such as Narcan. First responders often have to use up to four or five doses to bring an overdose victim who has used fentanyl back from near-death, and sometimes it’s too late. When exposed to the drug, they have to exercise extreme caution to not become victims themselves, covering their mouths and hands to avoid absorption.

Fentanyl has quickly infiltrated the illicit drug scene, and is seen as response by drug dealers to the law enforcement crackdowns taken to curb heroin use across North America. While much more powerful – and deadlier – than other prescription opiates, it’s believed that drug dealers have found it easier to import than heroin. While the drug is known to cause more deaths, drug dealers seem to continue to sell and “spike” drugs with fentanyl because they believe there will always be demand, even if their initial buyers end up in a grave.

Earlier this month, the Broward Sheriff’s Office K-9 dogs were sickened by exposure to fentanyl while sniffing out hidden money. Just a whiff of the drug was enough to sicken the dogs, who were treated at a veterinary hospital using Narcan and treated as a poisoning case.

In London, Ohio, where Bureau of Investigation labs test illicit substances for law enforcement and coroner offices, testing for drugs such as fentanyl has become a hazard for employees. BCI says they handled 1,865 investigations involving fentanyl during the first nine months of 2016, more than all of the submissions from the previous five years combined. It’s not uncommon to find heroin and other drugs laced with fentanyl to create a more powerful effect for users.  The lab has also received 64 submissions for carfentanil, an animal tranquilizer that’s 100 times stronger than fentanyl, which they suspect was the cause of 174 overdoses in six days in August. Scientists must wear masks and gloves and work with partners in case they are exposed to the toxic substance. (Accidents have happened in the past, which means that they must keep their own supply of the opiate-reversing drug Narcan on hand in case of emergencies.)

As fentanyl becomes more common, drug dealers will continue to use it to “spike” other drugs, making them more powerful and addictive than their pure form. There have been reports of cocaine users (who have never used heroin) dying from batches of cocaine suspected to be tainted with fentanyl. And in Vancouver Canada, where people addicted to heroin can use the drug with medical supervision, they regularly test heroin for contaminants and find fentanyl has been added to the drug. At the request of an anonymous drug user, they recently tested a batch of marijuana where something didn’t seem right, only to find it had been “spiked” with fentanyl.

As fentanyl becomes more common, so do overdoses. Curbing fentanyl use is dependent on stopping the supplies of the drug from places like China. Unfortunately, the current trend is of a supply that’s growing larger and spreading across North American cities and towns just as quickly as the opioid epidemic itself. Law enforcement and customs officials may not be able to catch up in time to prevent an onslaught of fentanyl addiction.

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