Painkiller Substitution Trend Complicating U.S. Opioid Misuse Problem

Officials in several U.S. states are raising concerns over a growing trend in the illicit drug trade – pills containing fentanyl, a potent drug used to treat chronic pain in cancer patients and 25 to 40 times more powerful than heroin, disguised as less powerful painkillers such as oxycodone or Percocet. Officials in Tennessee reported 24 such cases in recent months, and health department representatives in San Francisco said several overdoses in the summer of 2015 were linked to medication containing fentanyl and disguised as Xanax. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, over 700 people died from overdoses related to fentanyl from late 2013 through early 2015.

Carole Rendon, the acting U.S. attorney in Cleveland, Ohio, said fentanyl is cheap to produce illegally, and drug dealers can make profits by selling it on the street as oxycodone, which usually sells at a higher cost. “People might otherwise say, ‘I know I can abuse this much of oxycodone,’ and they may be in for a really, really bad surprise when they find out that’s fentanyl and not oxycodone,” said Dr. Thomas Gilson, medical examiner for Cuyahoga County in Ohio.

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