September 4, 20191:04 PM ET
Heard on Fresh Air
Bags of heroin, some laced with fentanyl, picked up in a 2016 New York City drug bust. “Basically, [fentanyl] is so cheap to produce and it’s so powerful, that drug dealers began realizing it was a way to increase their profits,” Fentanyl, Inc. author Ben Westhoff says. But miscalculations of the amount used can be deadly.
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More than 70,000 Americans died from drug overdoses last year, and a growing number of those deaths are attributed to the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl. Journalist Ben Westhoff says the drug, while an important painkiller and anesthesia medicine in hospitals, is now killing more Americans annually as a street drug than any other in U.S. history.
“Fentanyl was originally formulated as a medical drug, something that was used in … open heart surgery and in end-of-life care,” Westhoff says. “It’s an opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin, 100 times stronger than morphine.”
Westhoff’s book Fentanyl, Inc. examines the manufacture, sale and use of fentanyl and other synthetic drugs. Over the course of his research, he visited two factories in China that make synthetic opioids and ship them to the U.S. or to Mexican drug cartels for distribution.
Westhoff notes that the synthetic opioids, which are sold over the “dark Web,” are often cut into other drugs, including heroin, cocaine and even prescription pills.
“Basically, it’s so cheap to produce and it’s so powerful, that drug dealers began realizing it was a way to increase their profits,” Westoff says.
He adds: “Since only 2 milligrams of fentanyl is enough to kill you,just the slightest miscalculation can make people overdose and die. … If fentanyl starts taking over prescription pills and other drugs, the problem could get even worse.”