New synthetic opioid on the streets in Loudoun
“I've talked to families in Loudoun County, whose children unfortunately have encountered this. It is very dangerous,” said Del. John Bell (D), a South Riding lawmaker who has spoken openly about his son's addiction to heroin and opioids. “One of the things I've learned is often when some of these very powerful drugs are out there, even when other people are overdosing on it, other people who are addicted then seek them out because it will give them a more powerful fix.”
Major Richard Fiano with the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office, a former DEA official who now oversees the Criminal Investigations Unit, which includes narcotics detectives, said they have yet to see deaths from carfentanil in Loudoun. There have, however, been three reported deaths involving the synthetic opioid in the Commonwealth of Virginia to date.
“Carfentanil is not for human consumption. We don't know how much is needed to kill a person,” Fiano said.
According to the latest statistics from Loudoun County Sheriff's Office, there have been four suspected heroin related deaths in 2017. The numbers only include cases worked by the Sheriff's Office.
In 2016 there were nearly 80 total opioid overdoses in Loudoun, at least 17 of which were fatal. In 2015, there were 10 fatal overdoses and 49 overall.
Lethal to the touch
Fiano said his narcotic detectives have had briefings on carfentanil, but he noted coming into contact with the substance isn't always obvious. In regular narcotics cases, if a white unknown powder is found in a residential property, then the detectives would first preserve the evidence.
“Sometimes you can let your guard down as your not used to dealing with substances that deadly. If detectives go into labs or heroin mills [in Baltimore] they are usually suited up. In residential properties, substances like carfentanil can be air-borne and accidentally inhaled,” Fiano said. “As you close doors, the wind can cause some particles to be released into the air.”
Fiano, who worked in New York in the 1970s, said there's been big changes in the drug world over the last few decades. Detectives working in narcotics decades ago didn't see synthetic opioids used to cut heroin, which was always used intravenously. Now it's so potent the drug can be snorted and sometimes just touched.
“It can get in through, eyes, nose, even open cuts,” Fiano added. “What we are seeing now is low quality heroin.”
Heroin can count for as little as 0.1 percent of product taken by an addict, with the rest made up of synthetic opioid to make it more potent, authorities say.
Heroin laced with fentanyl
Much of the heroin that finds its way into Loudoun County comes from Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Heroin laced with fentanyl has been a blend commonly found in Virginia. Users and distributors can order it through the dark web, with much of the production coming out of China.
Fortunately, authorities say, China earlier this year announced it was banning the manufacture of carfentanil, furanyl fentanyl, acrylfentanyl and valeryl fentanyl. Previously those synthetic opioids were uncontrolled. It's been widely reported that U.S. officials at the federal and state levels say the move is significant and should impact supply in the States.
Toxicology reports from drug-related deaths in Virginia often show a mixture of drugs responsible for a fatal overdose. Fentanyl or morphine are often mixed with heroin, so it is often difficult to pinpoint which substance caused death.
Deputies from Loudoun County Sheriff's Office carry naloxone, a popular prescription medicine that blocks the effects of opioids and reverses an overdose.
When it comes to drugs laced with newer synthetic opioids like carfentanil crossing state and international borders, “what the rest of the nation sees, we will see,” Fiano said.
“You are literally putting your life on the line if you are using these drugs,” Del. Bell, who worked with his colleagues in Richmond to combat the issue, said Bell, whose son is now in recovery.
“I would encourage people -- even if they suspect a loved one, a friend has an addiction problem -- to seek help, and intervene as early as possible. With every use, this could be the last use.”
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