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Why is Fentanyl Showing Up in Cocaine?

Updated: Feb 11, 2023

By now, it is no secret that Fentanyl is showing up with high frequency in opiate based substances like heroin and pain medication (oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, codeine, etc.). In fact in 2021 the DEA seized over 15,000 lbs of Fentanyl which was 4x the amount seized in 2017. In 2022, some states like Montana are already seeing seizures up 4x more on top of those 2021 rates.

However, what is puzzling many casual drug users and health officials is the increased prevalence of fentanyl in Cocaine. Headlines like "6 College Kids OD on Fentanyl Laced Cocaine While On Spring Break" are bringing the issue to the forefront and many are scratching their heads why this would even be happening.

There are a few theories why this is happening:

  1. Synthetic Speedball - A "speedball" is a mix of an opioid substance like heroin with an "upper" like cocaine or meth. As dealers and cartels look to increase margins they are increasingly reducing the amounts of natural opioids and replacing that with lower more potent doses of fentanyl. With the margin of error being so slim with measuring fentanyl it is only natural that more accidental overdoses would occur when it is used as a substitute.

  2. Cross Contamination - Places where street drugs are cut and packaged for distribution are normally not "lab controlled" environments. While some operations may take precautions not to mix products, due to its nature of being extremely potent it would be easy for residue to be left over from cutting heroin or pressing pills and it finding its way into cocaine. Because a fatal dose of fentanyl is only a few grains of salt, the implications are are immense.

  3. On Purpose - While it seems strange to mix these 2 drugs together given their opposite effects, opioids by nature are extremely addictive. There are thoughts that it is being added into the supply at higher levels of the distribution network in order to drive more Opioid addiction through getting Americans hooked by using it unknowingly in other drugs. While there is some doubt in this theory the increased occurrence of cocaine / fentanyl overdoses means it cannot be ruled out.

  4. It was always there - some say that the increased deaths linked to cocaine in fentanyl are actually just a factor of more people using drugs like cocaine in general. It is also important to note that as the problem has seemingly gotten larger or more noisy with headlines of kids dying more focus has been put on tracking overdose data and law enforcement efforts. Some states still do not record what substance causes an overdose death, only that it was an overdose.

Unfortunately, as fentanyl becomes more prevalent in the illegal drug supply so will instances of tragic stories in the news. Testing for Fentanyl using BTNX Fentanyl Test Strips in combination with increased awareness and education, while not perfect, does offer a level of protection only surpassed by abstinence from drug use all together.

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