Underground labs in China are devising potent new opiates faster than authorities can respond

Last Updated: Monday, April 3, 2017

(Science, March 29) Fentanyl and its analogs are new faces of a worsening scourge. The United States consumes 85% of all the world's natural and synthetic opiates, which in 2015 factored in 33,091 U.S. deaths, up more than 4000 from the previous year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioid overdoses have quadrupled since 1999. When average U.S. life expectancies for men and women edged downward last year, for the first time in decades, many health professionals blamed opiate abuse.

The opium poppy is no longer the starting point for many of the opiates on the street. The new compounds, often sold mixed with heroin, originate in illicit labs in China. "For the cartels, why wait for a field of poppies to grow and harvest if you can get your hands on the precursor chemicals and cook a batch of fentanyl in a lab?" says Tim Reagan, resident agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA's) Cincinnati office. Read more.

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