Last updated: November 27, 2023
Last December, eleven people overdosed and died in Maricopa County, Arizona. Those deaths were all linked to a new strain of fentanyl. It’s called para-fluorofentanyl (pFF) and it’s even more deadly than its predecessor. Autopsies identified pFF in the victims alongside other narcotics such as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and fentanyl.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) referred to pFF as a “new fentanyl strain” but the drug has been around for about 60 years. It hit the DEA’s radar in 2003 after a raid on an illicit production site in the Netherlands. Developed in the 1960s, it hasn’t been a huge concern here in the United States other than for a short period during the 1980s. However, as the drug is being discovered throughout Arizona, it looks as if that will change.
Popular by whose standard?
It’s hard to imagine that the drug is even more dangerous than fentanyl. However, ingesting 2 mg—that’s equivalent to just two grains of salt—of pFF can kill a person. That said, it’s hard to believe that anyone would risk using this highly toxic drug.
The truth is, they usually have no idea they’re buying para-fluorofentanyl.
As with fentanyl, the extreme toxicity of the drug causes the majority of people to shy away from use. The problem is drug dealers don’t care about risk—they care about profit.
Fentanyl and para-flourofentanyl are manufactured illicitly in China and Mexico and smuggled into the United States. Dealers purchase the inexpensive drugs in powder form and use them as a “cutting” agent. They mix the pFF into other narcotics, such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin for instance, because it increases the amount of product they have to sell.
And, if the user survives, their enhanced experience promotes repeat business.
Addicts realize the danger they put themselves in every time they pick up a needle—or swallow a pill for that matter. This drug can easily be mixed into the “cocktail” recipe that drug cartels use to make Ecstasy. They aren’t particular about the ingredients and you can bet they won’t be listed on the packaging either.
Once city officials became aware of the rise in overdose deaths that involved fentanyl, many have rolled out a plan to save as many lives as possible. City governments are putting NARCAN nasal spray, a prescription medication that rapidly reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, directly in the hands of addicts.
Addicts form buddy systems when shooting up so there’s someone around to administer the NARCAN if an overdose occurs. The plan, of course, is to reduce the chance of death before medical personnel can get to the scene. Sadly, though, that step doesn’t always enter the addicts’ plan.
Oftentimes, it’s more likely a “hope for the best” scenario. The user’s buddy faithfully administers the NARCAN but doesn’t call for additional assistance.
Side effects of use
Para-fluorofentanyl is a synthetic opioid developed by Janssen Pharmaceutica back in the 1960s. It was a problem on the United States black market for a while in the early 1980s but use declined after the introduction of the Federal Analog Act.
The drug is controlled by the DEA and there is currently no accepted medical use for pFF in the United States. It is extremely addictive and carries a high risk of abuse. As mentioned above, the extreme toxicity of this drug makes eventual death by overdose more of a likelihood than a risk with continued use.
The side effects of fentanyl analogs include:
- Slurred speech
- Unsteady gait
- Pupil constriction
- Potentially serious respiratory depression
Drug use on the rise
The United States had experienced a slight decline in drug use during 2018 according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) annual report. We’d barely had time to celebrate that victory when the pandemic hit in March 2020.
Since that time, the stress and chaos created by the virus causing illness, death, job loss, and separation from loved ones has many people turning to drugs and alcohol to cope with it all. Depression and loneliness trigger addicts to relapse and casual users risk addiction when continuing use over an extended period of time.
When you suspect an employee is using drugs or alcohol, reach out.
If you participate in a drug-free program and reasonable suspicion testing is included in your protocol, don’t hesitate to follow the necessary steps to enable you to drug test them. If you don’t have a drug-free program in place, reach out as one human being to another.
You may be saving their life.