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Fentanyl and its related compounds killed an estimated 25,000 people in 2017. That’s more than any other drug in America.
During today's broadcast, we took a closer look at how cocaine and meth users are now overdosing on fentanyl-contaminated drugs — and how they may not have even known it was there. That means the opioid crisis is spreading to new groups, leaving more families affected as the overdose rate rises.
One such family member was Gail, a caller from Worcester, Massachusetts, who spoke about her son's experience with opioids and narcotics on today's show.
"I have a son who is addicted to heroin and, likewise, fentanyl, once that came along. He was very adept at adjusting the dosages so that he knew exactly what he was doing," Gail said. "He had fentanyl and he knew he had fentanyl, and he adjusted accordingly.
"When those things became less available to him, he switched over to cocaine and suddenly there was this huge attraction to the cocaine that just went on and on and became devastatingly dangerous. And now I understand the attraction. Because I do believe that it was laced with fentanyl and it did become an addiction for him."
Gail says it's the worst her son has ever been, "physically, mentally and emotionally."
The question is: How is fentanyl making its way into drugs like cocaine?
Hugh Shannon is an administrator in the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office. Cuyahoga County had the biggest increase in cocaine-fentanyl deaths, according to analysis from Mother Jones. Shannon says both lab results and anecdotal evidence point to "a more intentional strategy" on the part of those producing and distributing the drugs.
"That's not accidental contamination," he said.
Deciphering exactly how traces of fentanyl are making their way into narcotics is difficult, said Julia Lurie, a reporter at Mother Jones covering the opioid epidemic. She says it's not totally clear at the local or national level.
She does, however, acknowledge the financial incentive of dealing fentanyl.
"I do think that if you are a drug dealer and you have fentanyl, you know that you can make money," Lurie said. "If you have drug users, regardless of if they're using heroin or cocaine or something else, fentanyl is going to be a good way to boost your profit."
Gail believes her son might fall into this category of drug users exposed to fentanyl unknowingly, at least at first. He is now in recovery.
"It was touch and go there for a while," Gail says, "but we got some really good help through a particular website, called Allies in Recovery ... and just in our behavior and how we acted towards him. Kind of gave him the incentive to do what he had to do."
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