In response to a recent resurgence in fentanyl abuse, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a nationwide alert about the dangers of the drug, describing it as a threat to health and public safety.
A Schedule II narcotic used as an analgesic and anesthetic, fentanyl is most potent opioid approved for medical treatment, potentially lethal even in low doses. The drug is frequently laced with heroin, exacerbating its potential for abuse.
The DEA has also warned law enforcement that fentanyl can be accidentally absorbed through the skin or inhaled as an airborne powder.
“Drug incidents and overdoses related to fentanyl are occurring at an alarming rate throughout the United States and represent a significant threat to public health and safety,” said DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart in a press release. “Often laced in heroin, fentanyl and fentanyl analogues produced in illicit clandestine labs are up to 100 times more powerful than morphine and 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin. Fentanyl is extremely dangerous to law enforcement and anyone else who may come into contact with it.”
The DEA’s warning follows a surge of fentanyl-related incidents within the past several years. Among the examples cited by the DEA, New Jersey experienced a significant increase in fentanyl deaths in 2014, reporting almost 80 within the first half of the year, while about 200 deaths were linked to the drug in Pennsylvania over a 15-month period. In August 2014, a 15-month old boy died after ingesting his mother’s fentanyl patch.
“DEA will continue to address this threat by directly attacking the drug trafficking networks producing and importing these deadly drugs,” said Leonhart. “We have lost too many Americans to drug overdoses and we strongly encourage parents, caregivers, teachers, local law enforcement and mentors to firmly and passionately educate others about the dangers of drug abuse, and to seek immediate help and treatment for those addicted to drugs.”
State and local labs reported 3344 fentanyl seizures in 2014, compared with 942 in 2013, according to the National Forensic Laboratory Information System.