YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Police in the Valley say while they’re not seeing evidence of a market for the powerful drug fentanyl, they know it’s here.
The powerful painkiller was found at the scene where two people died of suspected overdoses in Youngstown early last month. While investigators are still waiting for toxicology results on those deaths, experts believe many suspected heroin addicts aren’t even aware that they’re using fentanyl.
“We’re finding that there’s no heroin in their system. We’re finding just fentanyl by itself, in many cases. Many of these patients have no idea that they’re being given fentanyl or being sold fentanyl as a heroin product,” said Dr. Dan Brown, of Meridian Community Care.
Police say although fentanyl costs just a fraction of what heroin does on the streets, it’s 30 to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. Treatment counselors worry those two factors could eventually lead to fentanyl replacing heroin as the drug of choice.
A new study gives Ohio the dubious distinction of having the most lab tests positive for the man-made painkiller in 2015. The second-highest state is Pennsylvania.
“You would smuggle it just like you would anything else,” said Lt. Jeff Solic, of the Mahoning Valley Drug Task Force.
Police say much of the fentanyl is coming from labs in China and Mexico, and some is even ordered and shipped online.
China can get away with distributing the illegal drug because its chemical and pharmaceutical industries are weak and poorly maintained, according to the study. The country mass produces inexpensive generic drugs, as opposed to the U.S., which produces expensive, high-value pharmaceutical products.
“Now that they have the ability to import smaller quantities of a much more potent laboratory-made drug, it’s going to be much easier for them to smuggle in,” Dr. Brown said.
Solic said addicts continue to want the drug, even if it might kill them.
“The mentality is that ‘I can handle it. He couldn’t, or she couldn’t. I’ll be able to handle it,'” Solic said.