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Game Changer: Cocaine cut with fentanyl poses newest danger

October 23, 2017  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
Game Changer:  Cocaine cut with fentanyl poses newest danger Photo: DEA

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For the first time, scientists working for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation have identified fentanyl, a potentially lethal narcotic, mixed in with cocaine samples.

Scientists in Nashville and Knoxville recently discovered fentanyl in three samples, T.J. Jordan, assistant director at the TBI revealed. The finding points to the progression of a disturbing trend.

For years, dealers have used trace amounts of fentanyl to “cut” heroin and other opioids, a process to add filler to a substance. Discovering fentanyl in cocaine, largely deemed a party drug, “changes the game,” Jordan noted.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is clinically used as a potent painkiller. In specific doses, the drug can be 50 to 100 times as powerful than morphine.

Even tiny amounts of fentanyl — the equivalent of a grain of salt — could be enough to cause an overdose. Although cocaine mixed in with fentanyl has resulted in overdoses in other parts of the U.S., Jordan indicated on Friday none had been recorded in Tennessee.

However, he said, the likelihood of danger is incredibly high. It can be absorbed through the skin, so touching the substance lead to an overdose.

“To be blunt, what you buy and use, thinking it’s a good time, could cost you your life,” Jordan added.

Metro police spokesperson Don Aaron said the department’s lab has not come across any cocaine laced with fentanyl. However, TBI officials said the handful of those cases recorded so far could point to the imminent expansion of a lethal trend.

In cases where a combination of fentanyl and cocaine isn’t fatal, one expert said, it could enhance the likelihood that the user can become addicted.

Patrick O’Shea, a former recreational user who is now call-center manager at Addiction Campuses, a treatment center for drug and alcohol abuse, said the trend threatened to alter the landscape for many of the people who come to him for help.

“Those that are using cocaine recreationally, their usage is going to increase because of the addictive aspects of opiates being injected into the cocaine,” O’Shea told the USA Today. “It’s shaping up to be a disaster.”

Experts say dealers use the substance as a cheap way to make the drugs more powerful.

Synthetic opioids are “extraordinarily profitable for drugmakers,” Tom Doub, chief clinical and compliance officer at American Addiction Centers, said.

They are inexpensive to make, which means they are cheaper to purchase on the street or the dark web. Illegal drugs could be attractive for someone who cannot obtain their usual pills or is looking for a cheaper alternative.

Heroin and fentanyl are a small portion of the cost of prescription pills sold on the street.

The Tennessee results are concerning to the treatment industry, although it’s not shocking.

“What worries me in hearing this it’s working its way across the country, and the problem seems to be getting worse,” Doub added.

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