Fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opioid 50 times more powerful than heroin, has cause a rapid increase of drug overdoses in America.
The synthetic opioid is now being linked to suppliers thousands of miles across the ocean. Unlike heroin which has been largely provided by Mexican cartels, shipments from suppliers in China have flooded the U.S. with fentanyl and the equipment needed to produce the drug, David Armstrong reports in STAT News.
"The China connection is allowing local drug dealers in North America to mass produce fentanyl in pill form, in some cases producing tablets that look identical to an oft-abused version of the prescription painkiller OxyContin," Armstrong reports.
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The shipments from China contain raw fentanyl in powder form allowing drug dealers to manipulate the drug and disguise it as other painkillers. These drugs have an much higher price on the street despite fentanyl being much more powerful, police say.
Although some seek out fentanyl many take the drug unknowingly -- which often leads to overdose due to the potency of the drug.
"One of the truly terrifying things is the pills are pressed and dyed to look like oxycodone," said Carole Rendon, the acting US attorney for the northern district of Ohio in Cleveland. "If you are using oxycodone and take fentanyl not knowing it is fentanyl, that is an overdose waiting to happen. Each of those pills is a potential overdose death."
During the last fentanyl epidemic in the U.S. between 2005 and 2008 all lethal overdoses could be traced to a single lab in Mexico. But now the Mexican cartel is receiving it's supply from China, John Martin, special agent in charge of the DEA San Francisco field division explained to Fox 40: "Fentanyl is coming from China. Mexican drug trafficking cartels are obtaining fentanyl, it's being smuggled through the normal smuggling routes of the southwest border."