The rapid influx of synthetic opioids into Florida is sparking an emergency warning from federal agents who say the deadly substances are seeping into cocaine supplies.
Officials with the Drug Enforcement Administration in Miami said Friday cocaine cut with fentanyl is becoming a widespread problem throughout the state, particularly in South Florida. State drug labs are finding both fentanyl, a synthetic opioid roughly 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, and carfentanil, a fentanyl analog roughly 10,000 times more powerful than morphine used largely as an elephant tranquilizer, reports the Sun Sentinel.
More than 180 samples of cocaine from 21 Florida counties analyzed by forensic scientists in the past two years have tested positive for potent opioids. Miami-Dade by far had the most contaminated cocaine supply, with 69 samples testing positive for opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil.
Cocaine-related deaths have doubled since 2012 in Florida and claimed more lives in 2016 than any other drug. Roughly 36 people died each month in Miami-Dade county from cocaine related issues in 2016.
“People are thinking they are taking straight cocaine and in fact they are not,” Justin Miller, intelligence chief for the DEA’s Miami Field Division, told the Sun Sentinel.
“Now you are seeing it cut or mixed with synthetic opioids. That’s really what’s scary out there.”
Since cocaine is often considered a social drug, officials fear users are largely unaware of the potentially fatal risks of fentanyl when using the substance, and “are the most likely to suffer an overdose and death.”
Fentanyl overtook heroin as the deadliest substance in the U.S. in 2016. Synthetic opioids, including fentanyl and its analogs, claimed roughly 20,100 lives in 2016, up from 9,945 in the previous year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates cocaine overdose deaths increased from roughly 4,000 in 2009 to more than 6,700 in 2015. Officials say cocaine overdose deaths are about to explode in 2017 to nearly 11,000. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein previously warned it only takes 2 milligrams of fentanyl, “the equivalent of a few grains of table salt,” to cause a fatal overdose.
Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death for Americans under age 50 and are predicted to kill more than 71,000 people in 2017.