Legal Loophole Closed |on Potent Designer Drug

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The Drug Enforcement Administration issued a final order Friday placing an extremely potent street drug on the schedule of controlled substances after dozens of deaths.
     Acetyl fentanyl, which the agency says is 15.7 times more potent than morphine and up to five times more powerful than heroin, is particularly dangerous because the range between the effective dose and the lethal dose is narrow.
     The Center of Disease Control issued an alert on acetyl fentanyl in June 2013, after 14 deaths in Rhode Island were attributed to the drug over a three month period.
     A total of 39 known deaths have been reported in Rhode Island, North Carolina, California, Louisiana, Oregon and Pennsylvania.
     But the Drug Enforcement Administration says it is likely that emergency room admissions and deaths due to this drug are under-reported because “standard immunoassays cannot differentiate acetyl fentanyl from fentanyl.”
     Fentanyl is a legal and frequently prescribed pain medication that has been the subject of numerous product liability wrongful death suit. Typically, plaintiffs have alleged that the time release patch delivery system was defective and released too much of the drug too quickly.
     The CDC’s alert recommended increased screening for emergency rooms dealing with overdosed patients because the standard emergency treatment for heroin overdose does not work for overdoses involving acetyl fentanyl.
     “What’s frightening about this emerging street drug is that users themselves may not be aware that they are ingesting it,” said John Stogner, of the University of North Carolina’s Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, last year.
     “A patient may report heroin use and have symptoms consistent with heroin overdose, but an emergency physician may find that the standard dose of antidote (naloxone) doesn’t work. Larger or additional doses are necessary when acetyl fentanyl is responsible. It’s never good to lose time between overdose and treatment,” Stogner said.
     Other “clandestinely produced fentanyl-like substances, commonly known as designer drugs” have surfaced since the late 1970s and 1980s and been placed on Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substance Act, the Drug Enforcement Administration said.
     Because acetyl fentanyl was not specifically listed under the Controlled Substances Act, it has existed in a legal grey area. “Recent reports indicate that acetyl fentanyl in powder form is available over the Internet and has been imported to addresses within the United States,” the agency said.
     Acetyl fentanyl has also been detected in tablets that mimic pharmaceutical opiate products, according to the DEA’s fact sheet on the drug.
     “Clever and well-informed drug distribution networks will likely take advantage of the legal loophole and profit by replacing or cutting a highly-regulated drug with this less regulated one,” Stogner said. “One of the many downsides of illegal drugs is you just can’t trust your drug dealer. The trend of adulterants being worked into street drugs to make them more potent is dangerous. The significant potential for overdose of acetyl fentanyl necessitates more medical research and policy reform.”
     Due to the “imminent hazard to public safety,” today’s action by the DEA temporarily places the drug on Schedule 1 under the CSA, and it is effective immediately for up to two years, with a possible extension of one additional year, pending completion of the permanent scheduling process.

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