Wednesday, the White House announced the federal government will be cracking down on international fentanyl trafficking. Fentanyl is a pain reliever used for treating severe pain, but in recent years the addictive drug has been used recreationally - causing more than 28,000 deaths in 2017. That’s more than half the deaths caused by opioids overall that year. Making it the biggest contributor to the opioid overdose.
Fentanyl has taken the lives of thousands of Floridians over the past years. Florida Department of Law Enforcement Chief Forensic Officer Mary Jane Havener explains what it is.
"Fentanyl is a drug that is considered a synthetic opioid. It is included in the same drug class as heroin and morphine. So it’s something that is primarily developed as a pain medication," said Havener.
The drug is usually prescribed during surgery and childbirth. But Havener says it’s found a way into street use mainly because it’s easy and inexpensive to make.
"Heroin is much more potent than morphine is," Havener says. "Even though morphine is very potent drug heroin is even more so and its addictive properties are significantly greater than morphine. But you can produce fentanyl which is even more potent heroin much cheaper."
She says for street use it’s often added to other opioids like heroin. Or sometimes sold in a pill form.
"If people are willing to go out onto the street and it looks like a Vicodin tablet or an oxycodone tablet,
there’s usually a market or you’d say a set price for that and people that purchase it may actually feel like they’re being safer," says Havener.
She says the fentanyl market has grown, at least if you’re going by the number of cases lab workers in Pensacola have come across.
Havener says before the rise of fentanyl she'd see, "1 or 2 cases one year." Now she's seen those numbers grow, "the next year you could have 10 to 15 and the next year you had 60 to 70 cases."
And Havener says the drug is even more popular in other parts of the state.
The White House’s plan to combat fentanyl trafficking is multi-layered. Officials want to curb the production and sale of the illicit drug by working more closely with private businesses to keep the drug from getting into the country. Senior Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway says last year alone federal agents seized enough fentanyl to kill every American four times.