ATLANTA — Metro Atlanta is seeing a dangerous, deadly shift in the street drug trade. Cocaine mixed with fentanyl is killing people, including recreational drug users, at an alarming rate. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 100 times more potent than morphine according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. For years, drug dealers have mixed it into heroin to make it more potent and profitable. But now, cocaine is being laced with the chemical. And it is killing people who had no idea what they were taking.
“Do you think your son knew that he was buying drugs that contained fentanyl?” Channel Two reporter Tom Regan asked Michelle Frey.
“Absolutely not, absolutely not,” Frey said.
Michelle Frey’s son Vincent battled addiction on and off for years. He conquered his demons and went back to work. But one morning in February:
“I knocked on his door and I didn’t get answer. (I) found him in his bed face down,” Michelle Frey said.
“He was gone. There was no getting him back,” Frey said.
Michelle believes her son had taken what he thought was cocaine. But it turned out to be fentanyl.
“Pure fentanyl with just a dot of cocaine. It was not a drug he ever used before. I know he did not want to die,” Michelle Frey said.
Cocaine overdose deaths involving fentanyl are soaring. From just 167 in 2010 to 8,659 in 2018. A five-thousand percent increase according to the CDC.
“2019 is the latest we have data for nationally. Something like 60% of the cocaine overdose deaths also mentioned synthetic opioids,” Bryce Pardo, a drug policy researcher said.
Pardo works at the RAND Corporation and has studied the spread of fentanyl for years.
He says the synthetic opioid is unlike any illicit drug in history and poses perhaps the greatest threat.
“And so, we kind of argue, well, this is more like a poisoning outbreak rather than a drug epidemic in the traditional sense. Because it not really demand-driven,” Pardo said.
In May, five people died in Atlanta in a week after using fentanyl-laced cocaine. They were not considered addicts.
“We have had several people comment that some of the overdose victims were self-employed, some of them working in the movie industry, some were part of the bar staff in Little Five Points and Virginia Highlands,” Alex Pike with the Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition said.
Carroll County, where Vincent Frey lived, saw a surge in drug overdose hospitalizations in July, the highest in the state.
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“It’s become very bad. We have seen a lot of overdose deaths due to fentanyl and being mixed in with other drugs,” said John Cobb, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the West Metro Regional Drug Enforcement Office.
Much of the fentanyl cut into drugs is bought online and shipped through the mail. Pardo says more should be done to stop this pipeline.
“It’s very easy to obtain fentanyl online. So we kind of said, there might be a way to spoof websites or to seize those websites to kind of deter individuals from importing a sizable amount of fentanyl and then distributing it on the streets,” Pardo said. Michelle says the dealer who sold her son the drugs that killed him is still out there. She says those knowingly selling fentanyl that causes a deadly overdose should be charged with murder.
“It’s just happening way too much to people. You know, people are losing their children, their fathers, their mothers. It’s just awful, it’s got to stop,” Michelle Frey said.
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