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Fentanyl killing more people in NH than heroin

New Hampshire Sunday News

January 30. 2016 8:30PM

Two-thirds of the drug overdose deaths in New Hampshire last year involved fentanyl, a powerful opioid that is becoming the drug of choice for addicts here.

Of 399 overdose deaths in 2015 (36 cases are still pending), 151 were caused by fentanyl alone, according to the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. There were 36 deaths from heroin and fentanyl combined, and another 74 from fentanyl combined with other drugs.

Overdose deaths from heroin alone numbered 31.

The drug crisis that has been devastating families across the state is now largely a fentanyl epidemic.

But this is not the fentanyl you might have gotten in the hospital for surgery or another medical procedure. It's a lethal, synthetic drug that is snaking its way into New Hampshire communities through a global trafficking network.

Special Agent Timothy Desmond is New England spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration, which last March issued a nationwide alert about the dangers of fentanyl.

Desmond said the fentanyl on the streets, sometimes sold as “China white,” produces euphoric effects indistinguishable from those of morphine and heroin. But it has “greater potency and shorter duration of action.”

“And we believe most of the fentanyl is illicitly manufactured clandestinely in Mexico,” he said.

When the current opioid epidemic began, Desmond said, agents were mostly seeing heroin mixed with a little fentanyl. “Now we're seeing fentanyl mixed with a little bit of heroin,” or fentanyl mixed with an “adulterate” like a starch.

The real danger, he said, is that addicts don't know what they're buying. “They may order heroin but they don't know if they're getting fentanyl with a little bit of heroin, or all fentanyl.”

Fentanyl, he said, “is probably 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin.”

It's a deadly situation, he said. “They're playing a game of Russian roulette because you just don't know what you're getting.”

“These traffickers have no quality control,” he said. “They're mixing it up themselves.”

“There's no such thing as a good batch, a bad batch or a tainted batch. If you put one next to the other, you can't tell the difference.

“And that's a problem.”

Lately, agents have encountered addicts who are asking specifically for “China white,” Desmond said. “They're seeking out the potency of that, which is scary. They don't want the heroin; they want the more potent stuff.

“But again, they don't know what they're getting.”

So are there clandestine fentanyl labs here in the U.S.? There have been labs busted in Canada.

“We don't have any intel or any signs that it's being made here in this country,” Desmond said. “Right now our intel is telling us it's Mexico.”

Long road to NH

But it doesn't start there. The chemicals that go into making synthetic fentanyl come from Asia and are shipped to clandestine labs in Mexico for production, Desmond said.

The fentanyl, in powder form, is then smuggled into the United States across the southwest border “in creative ways,” he said: “Hidden in shipping containers that contain false walls and floors, hidden in traps in motor vehicles, hidden compartments ... and it also can be carried by individuals.”

These smugglers, he said, “are members of drug trafficking organizations, whether it's the cartels that are sending them over or the drug trafficking organizations that are here in the United States that are sending people across the border and bringing it into the United States.”

That includes Americans, he said. “It's whoever they hire that's willing to take the chance.”

Once the drug reaches the U.S., “It travels up through the interstate highway system and makes its way up into some of the bigger cities,” Desmond said.

The fentanyl sold in New Hampshire mostly comes from New York City, “with traffickers traveling from New England cities to New York to obtain the heroin/fentanyl, or traffickers in New York sending it to their organization members already established in our cities.”

Online market

There's another source for illegal fentanyl: the Internet.

A quick search turned up several websites that purport to sell fentanyl. That's where the U.S. Postal Inspection Service comes in.

USPIS is the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service. Bernadette Lundbohm is a postal inspector and public information officer for its Boston division.

She said the agency does not regulate or have jurisdiction over Internet pharmacies or the purchase of drugs over the Internet. “Our jurisdiction is based on the non-mailability of these substances,” she said in an email.

“That said, the Postal Service has no interest in being the unwitting accomplice to anyone using the U.S. Mail to distribute illegal drugs or paraphernalia,” she said.

“Our objectives are to rid the mail of illicit drug trafficking, preserve the integrity of the mail and, most important, provide a safe environment for postal employees and Postal Service customers — the American public.”

“Postal inspectors accomplish this by focusing on illicit drug mailers and distribution rings, maintaining an aggressive drug parcel-detection program, and seeking prosecution of mailers and recipients of illegal drugs to the fullest extent of the law,” Lundbohm said.

DEA focuses its efforts on “large-scale and sophisticated trafficking organizations,” Desmond said. “We do not target heroin addicts or fentanyl addicts.”

“They're casualties of this, and they need help and they need treatment,” he said.

DEA works to eliminate the supply of drugs, he said. But the real problem is American demand for these deadly substances; that's why education, prevention and treatment are key to solving this epidemic.

“It's all on us,” he said. “If we weren't asking for it ...

“So until we can stop the demand, it's going to be there.”

Health General News New Hampshire State Government

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