The Drug Enforcement Administration says fentanyl has been passed off as legitimate painkillers, anti-anxiety drugs and medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, reports the Chicago Tribune. So far this year the agency has seized millions of fakes — near-perfect copycats pressed on industrial equipment. Test strips that reveal the presence of fentanyl in powdered heroin aren’t as simple to use with pills, and many users, believing they have the genuine article, might not even know about that precaution. In Will County, Illinois, most drug overdoses are now due partly or entirely to fentanyl, reflecting a nationwide trend.
Bryce Pardo, a drug policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, said even though Xanax is a benzodiazepine, traffickers might be substituting fentanyl because of its similar sedating effect. That makes the phonies especially dangerous for unwitting users who haven’t built a tolerance to opioids. Some believe that fentanyl’s recent appearance in drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA is the result of sloppiness among traffickers, who often process multiple substances and aren’t exactly fastidious about avoiding cross-contamination. Others think it’s done intentionally to increase the addictive power of nonopioids.