Earlier this week four people in the Omaha metro area were found unconscious and rushed to hospitals where it was determined that they had taken the drug fentanyl. Dr. Alena Balasanova is the director of addiction education at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and says this is one of the strongest lab created drugs. Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine and about 50 times more potent than heroin and is used as an anesthesia during surgery or as a painkiller for severe injuries or for terminal illness.
Now it is showing up in street drugs. Dr. Balasanova says, “Lately with the opioid epidemic it is used a lot more and is cut into heroin by the suppliers because it is cheaper. It is easier to make. Sometimes it is made abroad, sometimes in Mexico, sometimes in China, other countries and brought in here and it is an easier way to bulk up the heroin by using a cheaper substance.” She says suppliers are using it to maximize profits but the problem is it is such a potent drug it can be fatal and often times drug users are not aware it has been added to heroin or other drugs.
Dr. Balasanova says fentanyl is more common in the eastern part of the U.S. but it is moving west. She says law enforcement, medics and hospital workers need to be aware of the dangers of the drug as it can be absorbed through the skin or easily inhaled. She says, “They have had other reports from other states that K-9 units law enforcement is using are overdosing on fentanyl just by sniffing it. It is very, very potent and can seep through the skin. It is important to be very careful and use appropriate protective gear for law enforcement working in these sorts of situations.”
Dr. Balasanova says unfortunately there is no distinct color, odor or identifying markers to this drug. It looks like a white powder and the only way to know for sure if you are dealing with fentanyl is to have the drug tested in a lab.