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Fentanyl-Laced Cocaine Appearing in the US

John Schaffer, LPCC

Medically reviewed by

John Schaffer, LPCC

February 28, 2019

Fentanyl-laced cocaine has been emerging across the United States, and it’s resulting in an unprecedented number of overdoses. Fentanyl is one of the most potent opioids on the market and if the cocaine user doesn’t have a tolerance to opioids, they could overdose instantly.

Why Is Mixing Fentanyl And Cocaine Dangerous?

Fentanyl is a fully synthetic opioid painkiller issued to treat people during surgery or with chronic moderate to severe pain though it’s usually reserved for cancer patients to deal with pain. The problem is that like most opioids, there’s a huge potential to abuse fentanyl—now it’s turning up in other illicit substances like heroin and cocaine.

Fentanyl is roughly 50 to 80 times more potent than morphine, and significantly stronger than heroin as well. Over the years, fentanyl has been posing a serious threat to Americans, especially when it’s mixed with recreational drugs like heroin, or cocaine.

Fentanyl is fairly easy to synthesize and less expensive to make than heroin and is produced in clandestine (secret) labs. As it turns out, drug dealers lace fentanyl with cocaine—to save money and give the user a different high. This mixture of stimulant and depressant has also been called a speedball, and it’s very dangerous.

According to NIDA for Teens, a speedball can intensify the negative effects of each drug being used. It can result in some of the following symptoms “state of general confusion, incoherence, blurred vision, stupor, drowsiness, paranoia, and mental impairment because of lack of sleep. The combination can also result in uncontrolled and uncoordinated motor skills, and also the risk of death from stroke, heart attack, aneurysm, or respiratory failure.”

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What are the biggest dangers? People buying the opioid-laced cocaine usually have no idea that they’re buying an opioid in the first place. When a person buys cocaine that’s just what they think they’re getting, but the reality is that it’s oftentimes a hodgepodge of ingredients.

At The End Of The Day, Fentanyl-Laced Cocaine Kills A Lot Of People.

So what else is bad about fentanyl-laced cocaine? The Substances Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provided the following list of dangers of fentanyl-laced cocaine:

  • The potency of street-sold cocaine is amplified markedly by fentanyl.
  • One may not know that the cocaine has been cut with fentanyl.
  • Because the potency of the drug purchased on the street is not known, and because the inclusion of fentanyl may not be disclosed, any use even a reduced dose can result in overdose or death.
  • The effects of an overdose occur rapidly, particularly with this potent combination of drugs.
  • Critical treatment minutes can be lost because emergency room personnel may not be aware that fentanyl is not detected in standard toxicology screens.

Common symptoms of a fentanyl overdose include: shallow breathing, confusion, lessened alertness, loss of consciousness, slow breathing, small pupils, respiratory failure, unresponsiveness, or blue skin due to poor circulation.

Fentanyl Linked To Thousands Of Cocaine Overdoses In The United States

Whether it’s added to heroin or cocaine, fentanyl is a killer. The worst part is that drug overdose tolls have tripled in the United States over the last 15 years, and fentanyl was largely responsible.

In 2015, there were more than 52,000 drug overdose deaths, and of those, 63 percent involved a prescription or illicit opioid.

“The available data indicate these increases are largely due to illicitly manufactured fentanyl,” (Department of Health and Human Services). But that’s not all. The following timeline shows just how dramatic the increase of opioid involvement in cocaine deaths really is—especially from 2010 to 2015:

Fentanyl-Laced Cocaine Graphic

Fentanyl involvement in overdoses is actually getting worse, and in 2016, 37 percent of overdose deaths involved cocaine and fentanyl without heroin, up from 11 percent in 2015. Last year more than 1,300 New Yorkers died of a drug overdose, and nearly half (44 percent) of those deaths involved fentanyl.

People who use cocaine occasionally and who are not used to taking opioids are considered to be at particularly high risk of overdose death, (National Institute on Drug Abuse).

United States Cities Where Fentanyl-Laced Cocaine Has Been Discovered

In June, 2017 the New York City Health Department issued a public health advisory about the potential for cocaine to be laced with fentanyl:

“All New Yorkers who use drugs, even if only occasionally, should know their drugs may be mixed with fentanyl,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett.

“Opioid overdose deaths are preventable. We encourage all New Yorkers who use drugs to take harm reduction measures and equip themselves and their friends and family with naloxone.”

But New York City isn’t the only the place that has been seeing the adversities of fentanyl-laced cocaine. In fact, cities like Chicago, Detroit, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Camden (New Jersey) have all seen the consequences of fentanyl in cocaine. The truth is, the combination could be anywhere at this point.

Abusing cocaine is dangerous on its own, but for someone who doesn’t take opioids, especially a particularly strong opioid like fentanyl, the risk of overdose is increased significantly—even with a small amount.

Fentanyl heightens the risk of cocaine overdose by slowing down a person’s breathing to dangerous levels. What’s worse is that illegal drugs often bring a lot of street crime, and other societal impacts as well; which is another scenario that’s frequently faced by larger cities.

Signs Of A Cocaine Addiction

Due to fentanyl showing up in cocaine, it is more dangerous now than ever to be a cocaine user. It is essential to know the signs of a cocaine addiction so that you can recognize if your friends or family have a problem.

Some of the signs of cocaine abuse are:

  • Spend a lot of time alone
  • Lose interest in their favorite things
  • Get messy—for instance, not bathe, change clothes, or brush their teeth
  • Be really tired and sad
  • Be very energetic, talk fast, or say things that don’t make sense
  • Be nervous or cranky (in a bad mood)
  • Quickly change between feeling bad and feeling good
  • Sleep at strange hours
  • Miss important appointments
  • Have problems at work
  • Eat a lot more or a lot less than usual

“They want and need more. They might try to stop taking the drug and then feel really sick. Then they take the drug again to stop feeling sick. They keep using the drug even though it’s causing terrible family, health, or legal problems,” (NIDA).

Get Help For A Cocaine Addiction Today

Someone suffering from addiction might not be able to stop taking drugs on their own. If you or someone you know needs help quitting drugs, contact the treatment specialists at today. All calls are 100 percent confidential.

Department of Health and Human Services - Fentanyl: The Next Wave of the Opioid Crisis

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Emerging Trends and Alerts

National Institute on Drug Abuse - How Does Drug Use Become an Addiction?

New York City Health Department - Health Department Warns New Yorkers About Cocaine Laced With Fentanyl

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - Fentanyl-Laced Heroin And Cocaine

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