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Cocaine and Fentanyl: Why We Should Be Concerned

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A disturbing new drug trend has hit the streets, and experts say that it’s “changing the game” for users. Frankly, it is putting them at serious risk.

The news reports started flooding in just last month, all ringing the same message: The lethal drug at the heart of America’s opioid crisis is being cut into cocaine and killing users. Across major cities nationwide, fatal overdoses are being linked to a deadly combination of fentanyl and cocaine.

In 24 of the nation’s largest cities and in the counties that surround them, fentanyl-related overdose deaths have increased nearly 600 percent from 2014 to 2016. And officials estimate there will be a much higher number of fatal fentanyl-related overdoses by the end of this year—especially with this new drug cocktail commanding the market. Drug manufacturers love the stuff— For them, fentanyl-laced cocaine means higher profit margins and more quick-and-dirty sales. It is less expensive to make than pure cocaine, but also a more potent (and therefore more addictive) alternative.

[This photo from the DEA shows 2 milligrams of fentanyl, a lethal dose for most people. Fentanyl, the top-killing drug in Pennsylvania, was found for the first time cut into cocaine in Tennessee, pointing towards a disturbing trend.] For users, however, the stakes are unquestionably high. Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine, 50 times more potent than heroin, and its effects are even greater in combination with other drugs. A potentially lethal dose of fentanyl could be the size of a grain of salt. This means that, if your bump of cocaine contains just two small milligrams of fentanyl (see right photo, from the DEA), there is a tall chance you will not wake up from it.

The major problem here is that most users who are taking fentanyl do not know they are taking it at all. What they think is pure cocaine could contain fentanyl, and in most batches of fentanyl-laced cocaine, at least one bag contains a lethal dose. The other issue with fentanyl is that, unlike other opioid drugs, it is very difficult to reverse an overdose using Narcan. If a cocaine-fentanyl overdose occurs, it could take multiple doses of naloxone to mitigate. Too often, those multiple doses are not enough.

Perhaps what is most surprising about the new (and already widespread) drug trend is that it combines two chemically-opposite drugs; two drugs that are typically taken by two totally separate demographics. Cocaine is a stimulant drug that is often used in the party scene—it is known for its quick, energizing, and euphoric effects. Meanwhile, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid drug. It is known for an intense high that relaxes and numbs the body, and is often used as a cheaper alternative to prescription painkillers and even heroin. Cocaine, being a “party drug,” is not usually mixed with opioids. Those who use drugs to party aren’t typically associated with the nation’s opioid epidemic. Fentanyl-laced cocaine changes the game, though. Now, an entirely new population is being exposed to the addictive properties of opioids.

And they don’t even know it.

A local hospital nearby Turnbridge in New Haven, Connecticut, recently treated 12 cocaine and fentanyl overdoses in an eight-hour period. Three of the overdoses were fatal, and all of the users thought they were just using cocaine. It turned out to be fentanyl. In Philadelphia, at least 162 people died last year from a combination of cocaine and fentanyl, equaling nearly one death every other day. In New York, at least 115 of the recorded 600 fentanyl-related overdose deaths were due to a cocaine and fentanyl mix.

Like the “speedball” heroin and cocaine mix we’ve previously discussed, cocaine and fentanyl have conflicting effects in the body. Cocaine can disguise the dangerous side effects of fentanyl abuse, and mask an overdose even as it is occurring. For example, a person can go into respiratory failure from fentanyl intake, but not know it until the cocaine effects wear off.

“If anything can be likened to a weapon of mass destruction in what it can do to a community, it’s fentanyl,” said Michael Ferguson, the special agent in charge of the DEA’s New England division, in a Washington Post article. “It’s manufactured death.”

If you believe your loved one is using cocaine, opioids, or purchasing any type of drugs off the street, you should be concerned. Right now, the most important thing you can do is talk to your loved one candidly about the dangers of illicit drugs and get them the help they need. More and more, traces of fentanyl are popping up in illicit and manufactured drugs. The dangers do not discriminate, either; anyone and everyone who uses illicit drugs is at risk. Know and memorize the signs of fentanyl abuse and addiction. Know where to seek help. Know who to call.

Finally, know that you can always contact Turnbridge young adult treatment center. We are here to help young men and young women overcome addiction and work through the recovery process. Our opioid addiction treatment programs are specially designed to help youth conquer the addictive workings of painkilling drugs and of this ongoing opioid epidemic. Especially in the case of fentanyl abuse, it is never too early to get help—but it can be too late. Call us today at 877-581-1793 for more information.