Ongoing collaboration between the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Government of China, to counter illicit fentanyl, culminated in an announcement this week from China’s National Narcotics Control Commission.
China will begin scheduling controls against four fentanyl-class substances: carfentanil, furanyl fentanyl, valeryl fentanyl, and acryl fentanyl effective March 1, 2017.
“Fentanyl-related compounds represent a significant and deadly component of the current opioid crisis,” said Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg.
These actions will undoubtedly save American lives and I would like to thank my Chinese counterparts for their actions on this important issue.”
“This announcement demonstrates the continued commitment on the part of both our countries to address this threat wherever possible.”
Over the past several months, DEA and Chinese officials had been meeting regularly to discuss mutual interests and shared responsibilities in countering the threat from fentanyl class substances.
Representatives from the China National Narcotics Laboratory, the Narcotics Control Bureau, and the Ministry of Public Security met with DEA officials to exchange information on emerging substances’ scientific data, trafficking trends, and sample exchanges.
This dialogue resulted in improved methods for identifying and submitting deadly substances for government control.
Fentanyl, a synthetic opiate painkiller, and related compounds are often mixed with heroin to increase its potency, but dealers and buyers may not know exactly what they are selling or ingesting.
Overseas labs in China are mass-producing fentanyl and fentanyl-related compounds and marketing them to drug trafficking groups in Mexico, Canada and the United States.
These drugs are deadly at very low doses and come in several forms, including powder, blotter paper, tablets, and spray. Overdoses in the U.S. due to these drugs have increased exponentially in recent years, and DEA has issued national warnings about the danger.
The DEA released a report in July, notifying authorities and the public that hundreds of thousands of counterfeit prescription pills, many containing deadly amounts of fentanyl and fentanyl-related compounds, made their way into the U.S. drug market.
Law enforcement nationwide are reporting higher fentanyl availability, seizures, and known overdose deaths than at any other time since the drug’s creation in 1959.
Risks to Law Enforcement
In addition to being deadly to users, fentanyl poses a grave threat to law enforcement officials and first responders, as a lethal dose of fentanyl can be accidentally inhaled or absorbed through the skin.
The DEA recently released the Police Roll Call video below, nationwide to warn law enforcement about this danger.
(‘FENTANYL – A Real Threat to Law Enforcement’, courtesy of the DEA, the Department of Justice, and YouTube)
Canine units are particularly at risk of immediate death from inhaling fentanyl.
The onset of adverse health effects, such as disorientation, coughing, sedation, respiratory distress or cardiac arrest is very rapid and profound, usually occurring within minutes of exposure.
If inhaled, move to fresh air, if ingested, wash out mouth with water provided the person is conscious and seek immediate medical attention.
Narcan (Naloxone), an overdose-reversing drug, is an antidote for opiate overdose and may be administered intravenously, intramuscularly, or subcutaneously.
Immediately administering Narcan can reverse an accidental overdose of fentanyl exposure to officers. Continue to administer multiple doses of Narcan until the exposed person or overdose victim responds favorably.
Field Testing / Safety Precautions
Law enforcement officers should be aware that fentanyl and its compounds resemble powered cocaine or heroin, however, should not be treated as such.
If at all possible do not take samples if fentanyl is suspected. Taking samples or opening a package could stir up the powder.
If you must take a sample, use gloves (no bare skin contact) and a dust mask or air purifying respirator (APR) if handling a sample, or a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) for a suspected lab.
If you have reason to believe an exhibit contains fentanyl, it is prudent to not field test it.
Submit the material directly to the laboratory for analysis and clearly indicate on the submission paperwork that the item is suspected of containing fentanyl.
This will alert laboratory personnel to take the necessary safety precautions during the handling, processing, analysis, and storage of the evidence.
Officers should be aware that while unadulterated fentanyl may resemble cocaine or heroin powder, it can be mixed with other substances which can alter its appearance.
As such, officers should be aware that fentanyl may be smuggled, transported, and/or used as part of a mixture.
Universal precautions must be applied when conducting field testing on drugs that are not suspected of containing fentanyl. Despite color and appearance, you can never be certain what you are testing.
In general, field testing of drugs should be conducted as appropriate, in a well ventilated area according to commercial test kit instructions and training received.
Sampling of evidence should be performed very carefully to avoid spillage and release of powder into the air.
At a minimum, gloves should be worn and the use of masks is recommended. After conducting the test, hands should be washed with copious amounts of soap and water.
Never attempt to identify a substance by taste or odor.
For additional information, click here to visit the DEA website and please be safe out there.