Carfentanil, Fentanyl Analogues, Heroin, China, the Police, and Felony Arrests
Heroin isn’t the big deal in the opioid crisis anymore. You might even say that heroin is Old School. Now, it’s what is being combined with heroin that’s being sold all over the country.
Namely, fentanyl and the fentanyl analogues like carfentanil. And times are changing for everyone involved.
The Popularity of Fentanyl
Fentanyl is a white powder. Specifically, it is a synthetic opioid that is sold as the prescription pain medications Actiq, Duragesic, Matrifen, or Onsolis. It is also manufactured for sale on the streets (this is called “non-pharmaceutical fentanyl”). You may recognize it as the drug involved in the death of music icon Prince.
Fentanyl is much (MUCH) more potent than heroin on its best day: reportedly, a dose of fentanyl is 100 times more powerful than heroin. For details, see our earlier post, “Fentanyl and Heroin Here in Dallas: Dangers of Arrest and More. “
Distributors ship fentanyl in small amounts, like a manila envelope from the office supply store or maybe in a pill bottle. A few ounces of fentanyl gets moved through the United States Postal Service, the most popular of opioid distribution channels. And a small amount of fentanyl means big bucks for those trafficking in illegal drugs.
This is one of the reasons that fentanyl is a growing and popular illicit drug market. It’s easy to move.
Overseas Fentanyl suppliers find it easy to distribute their product and conversely, for the same reasons, law enforcement finds it hard to track down and seize. See, e.g., “An inside look at the hunt for fentanyl, the deadly opioid driving the overdose crisis,” written by and published by USA Today on September 17, 2017.
What Are Fentanyl Analogues?
But the story doesn’t stop there. Now, there is a growing market in “fentanyl analogues,” with the biggest product in this new product line being “carfentanil.”
Fentanyl analogs (or analogues) are derivatives of the drug fentanyl. The recipe gets changed a bit. They’re knock-off drugs, just like there are knock-off designer fashions and leather goods.
Some of the more well known fentanyl analogs sold in illegal drug trafficking are affentanil, sufentanil, and remifentanil. But none are as popular right now as carfentanil.
What is Carfentanil?
Carfentanil is a fentanyl analogue. Carfentanil is a synthetic opioid produced for veterinarians. It is sold as for use in anesthesia of large animals during surgery, marketing name Wildnil. Very large animals, like elephants. It was not intended for humans to use because it is so very powerful.
How powerful is it? Carfentanil is 100 times more potent than fentanyl, which makes it 10,000 times (100 x 100) more potent than heroin. Rolling Stone magazine quotes elephantcare.org as veterinarians needing only 2 milligrams of carfentanil to fully sedate a 2000 pound elephant. (And the article points out that these vets wear face masks and gloves when they dose animials with carfentanil.)
That’s the prescription version. The bigger news is more and more non-prescription carfentanil being manufactured for sale here in the United States (which reportedly is home to 85% of the world’s opiate market).
How is China Involved?
The manufacturing hub of these new potent opioids isn’t here in the United States, or in Mexico, or in Central or South America. Nope: the drug makers are located over in China, where underground laboratories have been busy making product for distribution here.
Back in March, China officially banned carfentanil as well as some other fentanyl analogues. The Chinese government added carfentanil to its illegal drug list (list of controlled substances).
But that isn’t stopping the drug makers in China. It’s similar to the synthetic marijuana laws passed by the federal government and the State of Texas. Making a drug illegal doesn’t block the market or stop the drug from being made and sold. And if they can vary the recipe, then the product may not violate the law in the first place. See, e.g., “Synthetic Drugs Law: Will New Texas Law Succeed in Outlawing Spice, K2, and Other Synthetic Highs?”
Science Magazine has created a list of these Chinese “research chemicals” that are in reality new recipes for fentanyl analogs. And these Chinese drug manufacturers are operating via web sites for online ordering which contain fake addresses and straw men to handle the sales transactions.
So, here in Texas someone can simply go online, order some Chinese “research chemicals,” and watch the mailbox.
For an example of a successful fentanyl distributor who was supplied by online China manufacturers (until he was arrested), read about Lubbock’s Sidney Lanier and his “fentanyl ring.”
The Police and Law Enforcement Investigations: Danger Warnings
There’s another twist to the fentanyl / carfentanil story. These white powders are so very powerful that even a grain or two (think about a salt shaker) can kill you.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has issued a formal recommendation to law enforcement on how police officers should react if they think they may be near to some fentanyl or carfentanil.
Like if the police are arresting someone and searching their pockets, or maybe executing a search warrant on someone’s apartment.
Specifically, NIOSH warns that officers may be in danger from “inhalation, mucous membrane contact, ingestion, and percutaneous exposure (e.g., needlestick),” and that these “exposure routes” can result in “rapid onset of life-threatening respiratory depression.”
So in Texas, we’re seeing drug raids with police officers clothed in full Hazmat gear as they enter a place where fentanyl or fentanyl analogs are suspected distribution sites. (Check out the photos in this recent NBCDFW.com story about a DEA bust.)
Arrest on Fentanyl or Carfentanil / Fentanyl Analog Charges
While some state and local authorities are making efforts to combat fentanyl and fentanyl analog drug trafficking (and possession), right now it’s the federal agencies that are focused on these drugs and targeting efforts on making fentanyl arrests.
So anyone arrested on fentanyl or fentanyl analog charges will probably be facing a federal prosecution.
Under federal law, there is a difference in how you are charged and sentenced depending upon whether or not you are busted for fentanyl or for a knock-off like carfentanil. This is true under current law even if carfentanil is known to be so much more powerful than fentanyl itself.
Other factors include (1) the amount involved; (2) past drug convictions (not arrests); and (3) if anyone was seriously injured or died as a result of ingesting the fentanyl you are accused of distributing. There will be an increase in sentencing if the fentanyl was distributed to a minor or if the distribution was near a school, etc.
If you are arrested for distribution of a controlled substance fentanyl knock-off (like carfentanil) then the same factors will be a consideration, but the sentencing will be less severe.
For more information, check out our web resources, read Michael Lowe’s Case Results, and read his in-depth article “TOP 10 THINGS TO KNOW WHEN DEFENDING TEXAS CHARGES OF MANUFACTURE OR DELIVERY OF AN ILLEGAL SUBSTANCE.”
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