Popular among heroin users as a cheaper alternative, fentanyl is considerably more powerful than street heroin — far more potent than heroin at least 40% to 60% more potent than heroin, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Effects can range from slurred speech, loss of coordination, foaming at the mouth, drooling, constipation and extreme weakness, according to the CDE.
Fentanyl has also been found in bath salts, which mimic the effects of bath salts, such as dancing, disorientation, but without the hallucinatory effects.
According to Dr. Lonny Shavelson, of the Center for Drug Testing and Analysis in Lexington, Kentucky, another fear with fentanyl is that it can be mixed with heroin.
“You don’t really know how to play the game,” Shavelson says. “And when you are mixing drugs, what the human body does is try to get rid of this chemical, to get rid of that chemical. The result is that you make a whole bunch of pills of a purer, faster-acting dose. And it’s a little bit of a hazard that you think you are giving to somebody, and at the end of the day it can kill them.”
Levels found in Kentucky have spiked to levels that are dangerously high.
In July, at one point, investigators found a quarter-pound of Fentanyl in the Kentucky jail where the three inmates were arrested, and a state jail in Lexington saw such a large amount of fentanyl that managers took the extraordinary step of locking all of the prison’s doors and ventilating the entire place.
Based on reports in The Courier-Journal, these two men also are alleged to have abused opiates by mashing alcohol into the heroin or mixing the heroin with a cut of the painkiller oxycodone that was made from Fentanyl.
While the Health Department has started a hotline for those who use heroin, Stephanie Thomas, the special agent in charge of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, warns against calling the tip line for medical help. Because people may be unaware of how harmful fentanyl is, she says, poison control centers have refused to handle calls related to fentanyl.
For some, there may be simply no other option, once they choose fentanyl over heroin, the agent tells CNN. “They really don’t know where else to go. This is poison,” she says.