SAMHSA Issues Heroin/Fentanyl Alert

After more than 100 overdose deaths over two months, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has alerted the addiction treatment community about a deadly combination of heroin and fentanyl, USA Today reported June 9.

"There's starting to be some increased awareness at the higher levels of government," said Robert Lubran, director of SAMHSA's division of pharmacologic therapies.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a warning last month about the heroin-fentanyl mix, a potent blend that has been traced to scores of overdoses and deaths in cities from Chicago to Philadelphia to St. Louis.

A recent raid on a drug lab in Mexico was touted as dealing a blow to the source of the fentanyl, and some city officials say that the crisis appears to have peaked.

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl, a schedule II prescription narcotic analgesic, is roughly 50 to 80 times more potent than morphine. This medication is used to manage pain during surgery. In clandestine laboratories, fentanyl can be produced in powder form and mixed with or substituted for heroin.

Preventing Overdoses

Persons using heroin or cocaine, or in treatment/recovery from such use, need to know that:

  • The potency of street-sold heroin or cocaine is amplified by fentanyl.
  • There is no way to tell that heroin or cocaine is “cut” with fentanyl.
  • Because the potency of the drug purchased on the street is not known, any use—even a reduced dose—can result in overdose or death.
  • The effects of an overdose occur rapidly.

Fentanyl-related overdoses can result in sudden death through respiratory arrest, cardiac arrest, severe respiratory depression, cardiovascular collapse or severe anaphylactic reaction. Furthermore, routine toxicology screens for opiates will not detect fentanyl.

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