Fentanyl, an opioid 50 times stronger than heroin, is becoming a rising concern as its presence was detected in more than half of overdose deaths in 10 states last year according
to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The proliferation of fentanyl-related deaths has been attributed in part to the drug being combined with cocaine. Fentanyl-laced cocaine is considered especially dangerous for users who have no tolerance for opioids, as it leads to higher chances of death from overdose.
The consequences of the spread of fentanyl-laced cocaine have emerged in the city of Cleveland over the last few years. According
to the Cuyahoga Country Medical Examiner's office, of the 477 fentanyl related fatalities in 2017, 200 of those were attributed to a fentanyl/cocaine combination. This is up from 92 fentanyl and 24 fentanyl/cocaine related deaths registered in 2015.
By June 2017, the Medical Examiner's office found traces of fentanyl in 299 packages of cocaine, up from nine found in 2015. While these numbers should alarm all cocaine users, Cuyahoga County medical examiner Dr. Tom Gilson says they should be a heightened cause for concern amongst African-American users.
"Over the space of three years we have almost a 14-fold increase in fentanyl deaths among African-Americans," Gilson told NPR
. "The opioid epidemic started in white suburbia but with the infiltration of fentanyl into the cocaine market we are definitely now seeing many more African-Americans dying of this problem."
The reasoning behind why batches of cocaine were laced with fentanyl in the first place are unknown. Current theories include carelessness with packaging as well as suppliers locking in customers with the highly addictive fentanyl.
So far, public warnings for fentanyl-laced cocaine have been issued in New York City
, Rhode Island
, and Tennessee. In a press conference
, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Assistant Director T.J. Jordan summarized the dangers of the drug.
"Here's why we're so concerned," Jordan said. "What you might buy and use, thinking it's a good time, could cost you your life."