‘Waiting to Exhale’: Heroin Laced with Elephant Tranquilizer Pushing Human Limits, Responder Resources Part 2

What is going on?

So, the same question that we raised in a previous post about fentanyl naturally arises. Namely, why is a drug so incredibly lethal being used in recreational street drugs at all? It’s generally believed that the synthetic opiates are being used by dealers to stretch their supply and offer users a stronger high.

DEA spokesman Russ Baer says using drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil to supplement, or “cut,” heroin is a lucrative business for Mexican and U.S. drug dealer as it can be produced at a cost of $3,000 to $4,000 per kilogram – the same as heroin. But a kilogram of the new synthetic opiates goes much further than heroin due to their intensity and yield per kilo.

“One kilo of fentanyl can produce between 16 and 24 kilos [of drug product], ultimately yielding profits of $1.3 million after it’s sold on the streets,” said Baer.

A ‘Killer High’

The promise of a “killer high” for users, and a steady flow of cash for black market dealers completes the picture, says Newton, Ohio police chief and Cincinnati heroin task force head, Tom Synan.

“These [heroin dealers] are intentionally putting in drugs they know can kill someone. The benefit for them is if the user survives, it is such a powerful high for them, they tend to come back…If one or two people die, they could care less. They know the supply is so big right now that if you lose some customers, in their eyes, there’s always more in line.

The irony is, it’s unlikely that users of carfentanil-laced heroin will even get to feel the euphoria they’re promised. With fentanyl and carfentanil, drug producers have seemed to have reached a tipping point: In their endless game of one-upmanship, vying to create the strongest, cheapest high, they have managed to produce effects that are too potent to be experienced.

Most users begin to go into respiratory distress or experience heart stoppage before the drugs really create a pleasant feeling in the brain and body. It all happens too fast and the strength of the carfentanil knocks them flat.

It is a serious matter

As all of this plays out and the human toll is increasingly felt across the Southeast and now in California, law enforcement, health, and emergency officials are exhausted, almost holding their breath for what’s next – but also nearly at their wits end to stop the bleed.

Heroin task force lead Synan and the Hamilton County, Ohio coroner recently pleaded with the public to refrain from buying and using heroin because they said, they didn’t know what was in the supply and users were literally “gambling with their lives.”

Meanwhile, to help reduce supply that might eventually make it to users, the Hamilton County prosecutor took the unprecedented measure of asking a judge to grant immunity to persons turning in carfentanil-laced dope.  The move is unusual, but currently being considered.

The Sad Truth

Sadly all of these steps to address the immediate crisis don’t reduce the user market for drugs that kill. That is the larger, tougher conundrum.

As Dr. Hakique Virani, opioid addictions specialist in Edmonton, Vancouver noted, “So long as there continues to be a large unmet demand for opioids because we aren’t treating people with addiction, the illicit market will find ways to meet that demand… In the meantime, people die.”

Both all too sad and all too true. We can and must commit ourselves to better educating and treating people so that they’re able to make a better choice. Otherwise, we can only hold our breath and brace for what’s next.


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