By Terry Gotham
Every 3 months, the DEA releases the “Emerging Threat Report.” This document catalogs the various substances that have been seized and analyzed by the DEA over a 3 month period. Every year, the DEA compiles that data into an annual report, which in my opinion, is the best window into the drug taking habits of Americans available anywhere. The 2016 results are in, and I have to tell you, it isn’t pretty.
2016 was a fentanyl jamboree folks. While in years past, we’ve dealt with “bath salts” and N-Bomb and Flakka, these substances didn’t seem to be growing in popularity this year. The chart above is pulled directly from the DEA report and breaks down the most popular emerging opioids & pain meds. 70% of the identifications were fentanyl, which means that 7 out of every 10 opioid drugs seized was fentanyl. What’s even more terrifying is the sheer number of fentanyl analogues that were discovered in drug seizures. As my regular readers know, the adulterant problem in the recreational drug taking community becomes fatal once opioids are stepped on with fentanyl. 42% of fentanyl seizures test for fentanyl and heroin, which indicates that more and more users are getting fentanyl in addition to heroin. It’s becoming more likely to encounter multiple types of fentanyl over the course of your use. That is a whirlwind of risk for dependent or recreational users. 9 of the 15 opioid substances identified (60%) were identified for the first time. To reiterate, there are 9 totally new fentanyl analogues in the wild that our EMTs, emergency medical staff & even toxicologists have little to no experience with.
I can’t make it any more clear than that folks. Fentanyl is being found routinely with cocaine & meth. That whole “why would dealers mix uppers & downers” question can be put to rest. It’s happening, and it’s happening so often, it’s classed as a “routine” occurrence by law enforcement.
Next up, the synthetic cannabinoids. The two most popular fake pot offerings, FUB-AMB & 5F-UR-144 accounted for 34% of the identifications. Yes, those are the names of the two most popular new drugs people are smoking when they want to get high and don’t want to smoke cannabis. The long tail of synthetic cannabinoids has grown over the last couple of years, but only 3 of the 37 different substances identified in 2016 were totally novel. This could be an indication that novel synthetic cannabinoids are not being developed because of market saturation or due to recent emergency scheduling, but we don’t have good data on preferences between synthetic cannabinoid brands or why some die out while others flourish.
Cathinones are following predictable if not slightly heartening paths. While we are still seeing a significant number of them in seizures & identifications, only 5 of the 24 substances were novel. Dibutylone, Ethylone, Methylone, a-PVP, and 4-MEC make expected chart appearances, but the novel drugs on the chart are interesting. 4-CEC, 3-CMC, 3-MEC are chemical analogues of 4-MEC, which is known as “second-generation” mephedrone. 4-methoxy-a-PV8 and 4-fluro-a-PHP are the next iterative cycle after a-PVP. These novel cathinones are entirely analogues of drugs that have been scheduled in the last 6 years. You can almost set your watch to it. And now, for something completely different.
Three. That’s it. 1 identification of 2C-B & two iterations of the problematic NBOMe substance that scared the hell out of us a few years ago. To me, this is an encouraging sign that the kids are alright. If fewer people are doing NBOMe because the community recognized the risk it posed and rejected it, that could be startlingly strong evidence that harm reduction works. If lethal chemicals are not supported within a community to the point where they don’t have a market, as no hippie wants to go to jail for selling a drug you can die from taking, then that means something is getting through.
It’s important to stress, all of these numbers could be grossly under-counting the true depth of fentanyl analogue and novel psychoactive substance proliferation. This data is generated from the substances that have been both seized and analyzed in a timely manner. Even the DEA doesn’t have enough funding to test everything being seized, and of course, there could be analogues or novel substances that simply haven’t been seized by law enforcement or documented by clinicians or recreational users. To put what we know in perspective, I’ll go to the DEA’s words themselves:
There were 21 substances reported for the first time in CY 2016, meaning they have not been encountered for at least the last two years. This equates to one new substance approximately every two and a half weeks.
~DEA Emerging Threat Report 2016
Ultimately, the data presented here by the DEA itself, supports the hypothesis that the War on Drugs creates more dangerous drugs, especially opioids. Pain medication users can’t afford prescription meds and heroin is has become problematic to import. So, dealers just make their own opiates or import a novel analogue of fentanyl to pass off as heroin for your clients. Fast forward a couple of years and we’ve got the overdose crisis plaguing most states. The iteration on a-PVP & 4-MEC/mephedrone is in direct response to laws passed in this decade. Those drugs would likely not be in circulation to the volume required to end up in a seizure without their precursors being scheduled. That’s the main thing I’d really like anyone still reading to take away from this: None of these drugs being consumed in the vast quantities that they are, would be ,if drugs that are already illegal, weren’t. If you are willing to stop you addiction from any drug buy kratom online and get what you desire.
Of course heroin would still cause overdoses, and people abusing psychomotor stimulants would have problems if drugs were legal. To say otherwise would be impudent & myopic. But, as I illustrated previously, hospital & ER staff had a pretty good handle on how to take care of heroin/morphine/prescription painkiller overdoses. How many emergency workers do you know that have ever heard of 4-CEC or a-PHP? Exactly. One crucial benefit from decriminalizing or legalizing hard drugs is that we’ll have a much cleaner substance pool for recreational users to draw from. This will return us to a careflow that is familiar and scaleable. No hospital has the resources to keep up with 9 new fentanyl analogues a year, and if TrumpCare passes, it will be even more difficult.