Report Highlights the Displacement of Heroin by Synthetic Opioids in Commonwealth’s Drug Market
HARRISBURG – Attorney General Josh Shapiro today released a special report warning policymakers and the public of the shift from heroin to fentanyl, a synthetic drug that is significantly more potent than heroin, which is now the dominant opioid in Pennsylvania.
“Fentanyl has rapidly replaced heroin as the dominant opioid in Pennsylvania. Last year, our Bureau of Narcotics Investigation seized more fentanyl than they had in the last four years combined. The rise in fentanyl has also contributed to a rise in overdose deaths. Last year, we lost 15 Pennsylvanians each and every day to a drug overdose. Law enforcement and policymakers alike must continue to do more to combat this crisis and devote additional resources to stopping fentanyl at the Southern border,” said AG Shapiro.
The report highlights the stark uptick in seizures of fentanyl compared to heroin in recent years. According to the report, in 2021, Office of Attorney General Bureau of Narcotics Investigation (BNI) regions seized more than double the amount of fentanyl than heroin. In the first three months of 2022, BNI seized approximately 40 times the amount of fentanyl compared to heroin – and more fentanyl than was seized in all of the previous year.
The report also notes the increase in fentanyl seizures in pill/tablet form that also contribute to the overall overdose rates in Pennsylvania. Fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills resemble legitimate prescription pills and allow dealers continued access to users addicted to prescription opioids with a cheaper, more potent option.
In 2022, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Philadelphia Field Division reported more than 20 percent of its analyzed fentanyl seizures to date were pills or tablets. The total weight of analyzed fentanyl seizures by DEA in Pennsylvania in pill/tablet form was five times higher in 2020 than in 2019. These are strong markers of the transition to counterfeit pills, due to their ease of concealment and production, versus powder fentanyl.
In Pennsylvania, overdose deaths rose by 16.4 percent in 2020, and continued rising to 5,438 reported overdose deaths in 2021, another 6 percent increase from the prior year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that synthetic opioids (including fentanyl), increasingly found in counterfeit pills, were some of the primary drivers of the increase in overdose deaths in the last several years. DEA states two milligrams can be a lethal dose of fentanyl and their analysis found that counterfeit pills can range from .02 to 5.1 milligrams.
“Fentanyl is deadly, and it is cheap to manufacture. Fentanyl is approximately 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine, with doses selling for the price of a six-pack of beer. Just one fentanyl-laced counterfeit pill is enough to cause an overdose. My office is working every day to shut down drug traffickers and remove these poisons from our communities,” said AG Shapiro.
Since taking office in 2017, the Office of Attorney General under AG Shapiro’s leadership has arrested more than 8,100 dealers and traffickers, taken approximately 3.2 million doses of heroin and 5.65 million doses of fentanyl off our streets, and increased arrests for diversion, cases where medical professionals are selling prescription drugs, 135 previous over 2016. In July 2021, AG Shapiro announced $1.07 billion had been secured from the national opioid settlement with distributors and Johnson & Johnson.
The report calls on policymakers to focus on making substance use disorder treatment available to those suffering from addiction, and to look at the relative costs and benefits of legalizing fentanyl test strips and other methods of testing drugs to know what is actually in these complex compounds and reduce inadvertent overdose deaths.
To read the full report: https://www.attorneygeneral.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/2022-05-23-OAG-Fentanyl-Report.pdf
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