Why do drug dealers spike their products with additives that can easily kill the customers on whom they depend? More specifically, why do dealers of heroin, which has made a meteoric comeback, cut it with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid similar to morphine but 50 to 100 times more potent? It boils down to economics, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Heroin is stronger and cheaper than pharmaceutical opioids and is attractive to users whose addictions began with prescription drugs. Fentanyl, lethal as it is, is stronger and cheaper than heroin. By adding fentanyl, dealers are able to augment a diluted supply of heroin or offer users a stronger kick.
“Obviously, there are no regulations, no quality controls,” said Robert Bell of the Drug Enforcement Administration. In other words, it’s a guess how much fentanyl to add, Bell said. “You don’t have to be wrong by much to kill somebody,” he said. Fentanyl looks the same as heroin; users have no idea which they are using. Fentanyl on the street is made in illegal labs — not pharmaceutical companies — so the quality or consistency varies. Used correctly, fentanyl can work wonders, easing extreme pain in patients. Used incorrectly, an amount the size of three grains of sand can be deadly. Of the more than 100 people who have died from drug overdoses so far this year in Milwaukee, at least 42 deaths involved fentanyl or one of its analogs, such as carfentanil.