Drug Awareness

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DEA Issues Nationwide Alert on Fentanyl as Threat to Health and Public Safety

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) today issued a nationwide alert about the dangers of fentanyl and fentanyl analogues/compounds. Fentanyl is commonly laced in heroin, causing significant problems across the country, particularly as heroin abuse has increased. This alert was issued through the multi-agency El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) to all U.S. law enforcement.

"Drug incidents and overdoses related to fentanyl are occurring at an alarming rate throughout the United States and represent a significant threat to public health and safety," said DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. "Often laced in heroin, fentanyl and fentanyl analogues produced in illicit clandestine labs are up to 100 times more powerful than morphine and 30-50 times more powerful than heroin.  Fentanyl is extremely dangerous to law enforcement and anyone else who may come into contact with it. DEA will continue to address this threat by directly attacking the drug trafficking networks producing and importing these deadly drugs.  We have lost too many Americans to drug overdoses and we strongly encourage parents, caregivers, teachers, local law enforcement and mentors to firmly and passionately educate others about the dangers of drug abuse, and to seek immediate help and treatment for those addicted to drugs."

In the last two years, DEA has seen a significant resurgence in fentanyl-related seizures. According to the National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS), state and local labs reported 3,344 fentanyl submissions in 2014, up from 942 in 2013.  In addition, DEA has identified 15 other fentanyl-related compounds.

 Fentanyl is a Schedule II narcotic used as an analgesic and anesthetic. It is the most potent opioid available for use in medical treatment - 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin. Fentanyl is potentially lethal, even at very low levels. Ingestion of small doses as small as 0.25 mg can be fatal. Its euphoric effects are indistinguishable from morphine or heroin.

 DEA has also issued warnings to law enforcement as fentanyl can be absorbed through the skin and accidental inhalation of airborne powder can also occur. DEA is concerned about law enforcement coming in contact with fentanyl on the streets during the course of enforcement, such as a buy-walk, or buy-bust operation.

 Fentanyl cases in 2014 have been significant, particularly in the northeast and in California, including one 12 kilogram seizure. The fentanyl from these seizures originated from Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

Globally, fentanyl abuse has increased the past two years in Russia, Ukraine, Sweden and Denmark. Mexican authorities have seizure fentanyl labs there, and intelligence has indicated that the precursor chemicals came from companies in Mexico, Germany, Japan, and China.

 Historically, this is not the first time fentanyl has posed such a threat to public health and safety. Between 2005 and 2007, over 1,000 U.S. deaths were attributed to fentanyl - many of which occurred in Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia. The source of that fentanyl was traced to a single lab in Mexico. When that lab was identified and dismantled, the surge ended.

The current outbreak involves not just fentanyl, but also fentanyl analogues.  The current outbreak is wider geographically and involves a wide array of individuals including new and experiences abusers.

 Some recent examples of the fentanyl surge across the United States:

*New Hampshire State Laboratory recently reported four fentanyl overdose deaths within a two-month period.

*New Jersey saw a huge spike in fentanyl deaths in 2014, reporting as many as 80 in the first six months of the fiscal year.

*Rhode Island and Pennsylvania have also seen huge increases since 2013. In a 15-month period, about 200 deaths were reported in Pennsylvania related to fentanyl.

*In the St. Louis area, based on information provided by medical examiners over a 10-year period, fentanyl was the only drug attributed as a primary death factor in 44 percent of fentanyl-related overdose cases.  The other 56 percent involved fentanyl and other substances such as alcohol, pharmaceuticals, cocaine or heroin.

*In June 2014, DEA New York dismantled a heroin and fentanyl network and arrested the two heads of the organization. These individuals were linked to at least three overdose deaths from heroin and fentanyl they sold.

 For more information on fentanyl, visit: http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/fentanyl.pdf

 New Street drug 'flakka'  

(DEA)Flakka is made from a chemical cousin of the amphetamine-like drug found in bath salts (pictured above).There's a new drug in town called flakka.

While many reports are saying this new designer drug is sweeping the state of Florida, the mind-altering substance has also been popping up in a few other states across the country, including Ohio and Texas.

There, it goes by the name "gravel" because it looks like the colorful gravel pebbles you'd use to decorate the bottom of an aquarium.

Use of the drug, which can be snorted, smoked, injected, and swallowed, has been linked with serious - and sometimes deadly - behavioral problems:

  • Earlier this week police arrested a man on flakka running naked across an intersection to escape the imaginary people he said were chasing him.
  • In February, a man on flakka was caught on camera trying to kick in the glass doors of Florida's Fort Lauderdale police headquarters.
  • And last March, a man on flakka reportedly impaled himself on a metal fence.

If these behaviors remind you of the ones that made headlines a few years ago with the appearance of drugs called "bath salts" - it isn't a coincidence. The two drugs are closely related.

What's it made of?

(Alex Dodd/flickr)Flakka is made from a compound called alpha-PVP, a chemical cousin of cathinone, the amphetamine-like drug found in bath salts.

Here's the worst part: While the active ingredient in bath salts was officially banned in 2011, its newer relative, alpha-PVP, was not.

That means it is legal in any state without its own ban.

What does it do?

Like cathinone, alpha-PVP is a type of stimulant, colloquially called an "upper." Uppers are linked with feelings of euphoria, enhanced alertness and wakefulness, and increased movement - all symptoms that are similar to those experienced by people on other drugs like amphetamines or cocaine.

Since flakka is so new, researchers aren't sure exactly how it affects the brain, or how addictive it is.

For now, they can only guess by looking at how its chemical cousins, like cocaine and amphetamines, work. These drugs cause a surge in two chemicals: the feel-good chemical dopamine (responsible for the euphoric sensations) and norepineprhine (which raises heart rate and blood pressure and can make us more alert).

Like cocaine and meth, flakka comes with a comedown, the period when the drug leaves the body and the person is left feeling fatigued or depressed. This sensation often results in users returning to the drug to get rid of the negative comedown feeling, jump-starting a cycle of use that can lead to abuse. Also like cocaine and meth, the drug may alter brain chemistry in a way that makes users require a larger and larger dose to get the same high.

Excessive use has been linked with feelings of extreme anxiety, paranoia, and hallucinations. Like with bath salts, people have also reported dozens of episodes of violent behavior in people on flakka.

At high doses, flakka may also cause the body to reach high temperatures (bath salts have been linked with the same symptom). This excessive temperature can lead to severe physical complications like kidney damage and muscle breakdown.

Flakka is on the rise

Still, flakka use is on the rise.

According to Forbes contributor Robert Glatter, the US Drug Enforcement Administration has seen a nearly 780% increase in the number of reported cases in the last three years. Back in 2010, not a single case of the drug had been reported in the US. Suddenly in 2012 there were 85 cases, and in 2014 there were 670.

Not surprisingly, one of the main reasons for this increase may be the price: flakka can cost as little as $5 a pop according to Dispatch Times, and is easy to buy in bulk.

"The cost is what really alarmed us ... a lot more people can get their hands on it, and that's always a problem," Fort Lauderdale police Sergeant Nick Coffin told Dispatch Times.

Elks National Drug Awareness Program
Kent Gade - Director
 Elks Natona Drug Awareness Program