Fentanyl Fatalities

By Shannon Scandiffio, Nicholas Ayala and Gabriel Rabinowitz

APR 26, 2017

The abuse of fentanyl, a deadly opioid, is rapidly spreading through America and affecting the lives of thousands. According to CNN reporter Nadia Kounang from 2013 to 2014 deaths from synthetic opioids increased by 79%. As a controlled substance, fentanyl is most commonly prescribed to cancer patients for pain management, and it is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin. Ms. Kounang also reported that as a street-drug fentanyl is being shipped to the U.S. from China and Mexico.

Vile of fentanyl
Photo: Getty Images, Joe Amon / Denver Post

Ms. Kounang’s report stated that some addicts who thought that they had purchased heroin actually ingested the much more dangerous fentanyl. Of the six states that tracked drug fatalities, — Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Ohio — Ohio was identified as the hardest hit state. She highlighted the extent to which this problem exists in the U.S. by noting that, “This year in California, fentanyl was passed off as the prescription drug Norco and sold on the street. In just 10 days, one batch was responsible for at least 10 deaths and 48 overdoses.” Mike Clary of Sun Sentinel reported that there were 93 deaths in Broward County, Florida, attributed to fentanyl. In Mr. Clary’s article the Director of the Broward Addiction Recovery Center Paul Faulk, said “This is an epidemic, but it’s a silent one”.

Molecular structure of fentanyl
Photo: Getty Images, Molekuul/Science photo library


Ms. Bertha Madras, formerly a director in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and currently a professor of Psychobiology at Harvard Medical School, explained how fentanyl is similar to crack cocaine. Professor Madras points out that both fentanyl and crack have a lipophilic molecular structure, which means they dissolve in lipids and fats. However, crack also contains hydrophilic molecules, meaning it dissolves in water. While hydrophilic molecules dissolve in water and the blood-brain barrier can naturally keep out most of these molecules, it lets in any lipophilic molecules. This means that fentanyl is far more likely to enter the brain than a hydrophilic-based drug. With further research, scientists and authorities hope to improve the effectiveness and control the distribution of fentanyl.