Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Never-Ending War on Drugs Drags On

"After the 2015 seizure, we ramped up efforts among all government agencies. We realize we need to take appropriate measures to know and investigate if we are dealing with fentanyl every time we find a laboratory."
"Fentanyl is very difficult to detect at first glance. Not everybody is able to recognize it."
Brigadier General Inocente Fermin Hernandez, head, national center for anti-crime policy, Mexico

"Cartels and drug traffickers are not stupid. They are rational economic actors, whose actions and decisions are directly related to demand."
"Our problem is that we don't have any hard data to compare and contrast."
Jorge Javier Romero Vadillo, professor, CIDE university, Mexico City
Fentanyl from China is sometimes hidden in silica desiccant packages.
Fentanyl from China is sometimes hidden in silica desiccant packages

Fentanyl has become the new scourge around the world in the causation of drug-related deaths. It is a powerful new drug often available in white powder form. Contact with the skin is enough to introduce it to the body. It is so powerful just touching it can cause an overdose, particularly among those unaccustomed to its affect. North America is discovering just how deadly it is with a rising death toll among users, some of whom are not even aware they're using fentanyl.

Its popularity is growing among the drug cartels because very small amounts bring big financial returns. While prescription drug crackdowns drove up the cost of pills like oxycodone, users began choosing heroin instead; cheaper, more available and comparatively easy to procure. Only sometimes it was cut with something new, something else, making the heroin more powerful and more deadly. That something else was fentanyl.

It is recognized as a more lucrative alternative to oxycodone and heroine. A kilogram of heroin brought in from Colombia at a cost of $6,000 can end up profiting the seller wholesale to the tune of $80,000. China, where most fentanyl is produced, can provide a kilogram of the stuff, pure, for less than $5,000. China, innovative and profit-driven, the source and fount of all consumer goods and products.

That kilogram of pure fentanyl is potent enough so it can be stretched out into 16 to 24 kilograms when cutting agents like talcum powder or caffeine are used. At that point every one of those kilograms can be sold wholesale for $80,000 -- that total profit rings in at $1.6-million. No illegal seller needs to be persuaded to get into the fentanyl market at those odds.

Mexican agents found 27 kilograms of fentanyl last fall, in a seizure. That represents the equivalent of nearly a ton of heroin, discovered on a remote landing strip in the state of Sinaloa. That same raid revealed the presence of about 19,000 tablets of fentanyl, which had been marked to be identified as oxycodone. The two men in charge were members of the Sinaloa cartel.

Fentanyl's potency is considered to be approximately 40 times that of heroin And as such it has made fentanyl a first choice for addicts, and for dealers a hugely profitable selection. The drug can be 20 times more profitable than heroin when sold in less pure forms. Whereas in 2014 American border agents seized four kilos of fentanyl, last year 90 kilos of synthetic opioids like fentanyl had been seized.

And as the prevalence and use of fentanyl has forged ahead, deaths by overdose have also increased; over 700 Americans died from fentanyl overdoses from the period late 2013 to late 2014. The drug is often mixed with heroin to increase the strength of a drug that can be diluted and directly ingested. When taken directly, the dose can be as minuscule as a few grains of salt. But it is being increasingly fashioned into fake oxycodone pills.
Fentanyl pills are made to look similar to OxyContin pills.
Fentanyl pills are made to look similar to OxyContin pills.   Alberta Law Enforcement Response

Jack Riley of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration states: "It is really the next migration of the cartels in terms of making profits. They saw this coming." According to Mr. Riley, a Chicago street gang called the Gangster Disciples trafficking drugs for cartels has been filling the market all the way to New Hampshire, with fentanyl.

Still, the majority of drug seizures in Mexico largely consists of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines. In Canada, police have shuttered 20 fentanyl labs since April 2013, operated by organized crime groups. The biggest raids took place in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan.  Illicit fentanyl and prescription-grade patches were collected in dozens of drug busts in Ontario.  Canada Border Services Agency in 2015 made just under 11,000 illicit-drug seizures, half coming through the postal system.

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