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Why would anyone cut heroin with fentanyl? It's cheap, says the researchers

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At Maggie Fox

Death overdose deaths skyrocketing &#821

1; up 10 percent in 2017 alone – and nearly half of the death is caused by synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. 19659007] These lab-manufactured drugs can be very potent and they are increasingly displayed in the delivery of drugs that the buyers thought was heroin. Because fentanyl and related drugs are so powerful, it is easy to overdose. That’s why so many users die.

In fact, deaths from synthetic opioids now exceed deaths from heroin or other opioid drugs in the United States according to federal data.

But why cut heroin with fentanyl in the first place? Researchers in California say there are two reasons. “It’s cheaper than heroin, and it’s smaller, easier and easier to smuggle,” says Sarah Mars, who studies drug abuse and politics at the University of California San Francisco.

Mars and colleagues have interviewed drug users across the country, along with some street level traders who also use their own products. They also participated in the research on drug prices and distribution patterns to answer questions about why fentanyl and fentanyl-like drugs become so common.

There is a lack of heroin and a growing range of cheap fentanyl from China and Mexico, Mars found. “There is demand for fentanyl but it can not run the market,” said Mars for NBC News.

This is because it is not possible for buyers to tell if they actually get fentanyl. And the researchers also found that many opioid users are actively afraid of fentanyl and do not want it because they know about the danger of overdose.

“Whether they prefer fentanyl, users have no impact on what drugs are being sold,” said Mars. “Without accurate information about these drugs, they can not make an informed choice about what they buy.”

There is another indication that demand does not cause increased use of fentanyl. There are hardly any gallstones for fentanyl, Mars said.

Instead, the explanation seems to be that synthetic opioids are cheap and available. They are added to the distributor range, not by retailers who sell directly to users, wrote Mars and colleagues in a report in Newspaper Addiction.

New fentany-like synthetics have hit the market and they are wider. The new drugs include carfentanil, which is 100 times stronger than fentanyl, says Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 3-methylphentanyl, which is four times as powerful. Other illegal synthetic opioids include furanyl phenanyl and acrylic phenanyl.

People usually do not ask for these newer synthetic substances, but they are used to replace or directly replace products sold on the street like oxycontin, or even as anti-anxiety drug Xanax, Mars.

Metamethetamine is also cut with synthetic opioids, she said. “This is a real puzzle. We do not know why retailers would add fentanyl to these drugs. It does not contribute to their strength,” said Mars.

The US government has asked China to control the production and export of fentanyl, and yesterday China agreed to label fentanyl as a controlled substance in a step designed to make it easier to prosecute people to make and sell illegally fentanyl.

Mars said it could help if China actually uses the designation to reduce exports. “If it was possible to reduce supply from China, it would certainly have an effect on the number of deaths of fentanyl overdose,” she said.

“Punishing low level traders will not have any effect. I do not know what they are selling,” she says.

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