What is fentanyl: price, effect and diffusion in Italy of the drug that plagues the USA

What is fentanyl? For those who are not familiar with the world of drugs, the question is sacrosanct given that this opioid, widely used as a drug, which has been killing young people in the United States for years, is still not very "famous" in Italy.
While in San Francisco one of the main topics addressed during the historic meeting between the American president Joe Biden and the Chinese president Xi Jinping was precisely that of the fight against fentanyl, in Italy the news agencies covered the news of an anti-drug operation in Piacenza with the Financial Police who stopped an international traffic, arresting seven people.
At the head of everything there would be a 51-year-old from Piacenza who trafficked 100,000 doses from China to the USA.
“The other night the financiers broke into his apartment on the outskirts of Piacenza together with agents of the Italian DCSA and also of the American DEA – Ansa wrote about it – The operation in fact also made use of the collaboration of the agency American for the fight against drugs, given that the narcotic that the 51-year-old from Piacenza brought from China ended up on the American drug dealing market, after being sent in parcels by ordinary mail.
The Piacenza native is also burdened by a request for extradition to the United States given that a few months ago an American boy lost his life due to an overdose after taking fentanyl".
But how was it possible that a drug could have become a drug capable of killing more than heroin, even ending up on the table of a very delicate summit like the one between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping? So let's try to shed some light on fentanyl: from the price to the effects up to its diffusion in Italy, this is the story of the opioid responsible for the deaths of over 100,000 Americans in 2022 alone.
read also Drugs and prostitution, every year the Italians spend as much as a budget law What is fentanyl: the effects Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid like pethidine, levorphanol, methadone, tramadol and dextropropoxyphene, which is used as an analgesic drug to relieve pain above all when this is chronic.
It was first synthesized in 1960 by Dr.
Paul Janssen; its peculiarity is that it is one hundred times more powerful than morphine and, since the 1990s, its use has become very common for palliative care.
From a therapeutic point of view, the medical use of fentanyl – especially in the form of patches – is possible only under medical prescription and strict health supervision, with its use mostly affecting cancer patients.
In recent years, however, this drug has become a lethal drug.
The effects of fentanyl are similar to those of other opioids, with the Ministry of the Interior website speaking of "stunnedness and euphoria, the latter less marked than heroin and morphine", while the side effects are "nausea, dizziness, vomiting, fatigue, headache, constipation, anemia and peripheral edema”.
In the United States – but also in Europe – we always read on the Interior Ministry page "a significant number of deaths have been recorded following the ingestion of illicitly synthesized or created fentanyls, sometimes called non-pharmaceutical fentanyls".
Its extreme danger is due to the fact that the lethal dose for humans is only 2 milligrams: it leads to coma, cardiac arrest and death.
From drug to drug But how was it possible that this drug became a drug responsible for a real massacre of young people? In the United States since 2005, fentanyl has been linked to numerous cases of overdose, but its spread for non-therapeutic use dates back some time before that.
Only ten years later, seizures of illegal fentanyl increased by over 400% and, in sad parallel, in the same period of time the number of fatal overdoses also increased by 80%, especially because the substance was often used to cut heroin or cocaine.
“The spread of fentanyl is due in part to basic economics: unlike heroin, which requires the cultivation of poppy fields, synthetic opioids can be produced cheaply on an industrial scale, with chemical knowledge of basis – wrote Vice a few years ago -.
Producing a kilo of fentanyl costs between 3,000 and 4,000 dollars (between 2,600 and 3,500 euros), the same cost as a kilo of heroin according to Russ Baer, spokesperson for the DEA.
That kilo of heroin in the United States sells for more than $60,000 (53,700 euros), with a street value of hundreds of thousands of dollars when cut and sold by the gram.” Since a dose must be less than two milligrams in order not to be lethal to humans, with one kilo of substance over 600,000 pills can be produced which are then sold in the United States at a cost of 20 dollars each.
The components are sold on the dark web and, coming mainly from China, then arrive in laboratories in Mexico or the United States where the pills are then made: in their meeting, Biden would have asked Xi to stem this phenomenon with the two countries that they would be close to an agreement to try to stop this trafficking.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 106,000 people died in the USA due to fentanyl in 2022, 71,000 in 2021 and 57,000 in 2020: Overseas this drug has become the main cause of death for people between 18 and 49 years, thus overcoming road accidents.
The spread in Italy The international anti-drug operation in Piacenza has put the spotlight on fentanyl in Italy too.
In this specific case, however, the laboratory set up would have been a sort of bridge between China and the United States.
As reported by the Ministry of the Interior, Fentanyl and around thirty of its analogues "are noted in Table I of narcotic substances, pursuant to Presidential Decree no.
309/90; it is also reported in the Table of Medicines, Section.
A and in Annex III-bis among the medicines for the treatment of severe pain that benefit from simplified prescribing methods".
In September, around 80 grams of fentanyl were seized in Viterbo, while in 2019, 2,000 pills were found in Milan.
Also in that year in Desenzano the seizure was 23 grams of the substance.
The first death in Italy instead dates back to 2017, but only a year after that death it was linked to the opioid.
A sign of how this drug has been circulating for years in Italy too, although – fortunately – still very limited.

Author: A.W.M.

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