What is fentanyl, the drug that kills

The Mexican drug cartels came across a sobering fact for their dirty business a few months ago: chemicals used to make methamphetamine and fentanyl, which are sourced from China, are running out. In fact, economists predicted that global closures for the coronavirus would have an effect on the ability of criminal organizations to produce synthetic drugs.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seizure data reveal near record amounts of fentanyl showing up in the United States each month. In March, for example, CBP seized 216 pounds of fentanyl (98 kilograms) at ports of entry alone. Image: Pixabay
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seizure data reveal near record amounts of fentanyl showing up in the United States each month. In March, for example, CBP seized 216 pounds of fentanyl (98 kilograms) at ports of entry alone. Image: Pixabay

Although China is documented as the largest source of illicit precursor chemicals coming into Mexico for the production of opioids - they are responsible for shipping two ingredients known as NPP and 4aNPP for the manufacture of fentanyl - the current leadership of the Sinaloa Cartel under Ismael Zambada García, Los Chapitos, and Rafael Caro Quintero, shifted some active methamphetamine laboratories to fentanyl laboratories, i.e. the most powerful organization in Mexico concentrated on manufacturing and distributing those synthetic drugs.

In 2014, Mexican criminal groups saw an opportunity in the opioid market, especially when the United States began to control cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine, which Americans used to make synthetic drugs.

Sinaloa, Mexico, is one of the areas where the manufacturing lies. Two years ago, in the bastion of drug trafficking, the cartel with the same name began hiring chemistry professors from universities throughout Mexico. The professionals work in the fentanyl laboratories supervising daily production.

They are also trying to change the molecular analog of fentanyl to create a new synthetic version, although much less pure than the Chinese. The aim is to use precursor chemicals that are no longer dependent on importation into Asia. The new formula will allow drug traffickers to use chemicals that are more readily available and more readily accessible.

Fentanyl and other synthetic opiates in the United States originate mainly from Mexico. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the country's transnational criminal organizations, including the Sinaloa Cartel and the New Generation Jalisco Cartel, remain the biggest criminal drug threat in the United States.

Fentanyl was produced in 1959 by a Belgian chemist and doctor named Paul Janssen. It has undergone more than 1,400 new analogs of the original formula. In Mexico, for example, criminal organizations combine the opioid with other clandestine diluents such as heroin. In addition, they have ventured into the manufacture of counterfeit prescription pills containing fentanyl.

A lethal dose of this narcotic is estimated to be about two milligrams, but it can vary depending on an individual's body size, tolerance, amount of previous use and other factors.

The Mexican government warning about fentanyl

"An enormously large social group was created with opioid addiction, and that's where fentanyl appears, a processed chemical that is also used in medicine and is used as an anesthetic," said Hugo López-Gatell, undersecretary of Health Promotion and Prevention at the Health Secretariat. And he warned that this drug "has already escaped to illegal markets" in the United States and now there are "signs of its use in Mexico.

Fentanyl emerged after different population groups in the United States became addicted to opioids in recent years through prescriptions issued by pharmacists.

In terms of drug consumption in general, the expert noted that Mexico has had "rapid growth" since the 1990s, when it went from being a producer country for its northern neighbor to a consumer country.

Also, the government announced that by 2020 it will increase coverage for the treatment of hepatitis C, linked to injectable substances. "Hepatitis C, because of its massive dimension and its connection with some addictions such as injectables, requires a public health approach," López-Gatell said.

What is fentanyl?

Pharmaceutical fentanyl is a synthetic opioid analgesic approved for the treatment of severe pain, typically advanced cancer pain. It is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It is prescribed in the form of transdermal patches or tablets and can be diverted for misuse and abuse in the United States.

However, the most recent cases of fentanyl-related harm, overdose, and death in the U.S. are related to illegally manufactured fentanyl.

It is sold through illegal drug markets because of its heroin-like effect. It is often mixed with heroin and/or cocaine as a combined product, with or without the user's knowledge, to increase its euphoric effects.

Use of naloxone

Naloxone is a safe and effective antidote to opioid-related overdoses, including heroin and fentanyl, and is a critical tool for preventing fatal opioid overdoses.

Depending on state and local laws in the United States, the police may administer this drug.

Multiple doses of naloxone may need to be given per overdose event due to the high potency of fentanyl relative to other opioids.

Ovidio Guzman and fentanyl

Journalist Jorge Fernández Menéndez reported that authorities had been persecuting Ovidio Guzmán López, son of Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, for almost a month.

The reason," said Jorge, "is that Ovidio controlled the laboratories for processing fentanyl in Culiacán, one of which had been discovered weeks earlier. This drug has been sent to the United States and has caused thousands of deaths in that country".

This Wednesday, authorities confirmed that Guzmán López is considered one of the main fentanyl traffickers to the United States and that's why the failed operation in Culiacán that concluded with his release was carried out.