Increasing Supplies of Fentanyl Stalk the Addicted

Massachusetts has long been a hub of opioid trafficking in the Northeast, but the drugs being trafficked were usually painkillers or heroin. In the last decade, a new and highly deadly player has been added to the game – illicitly manufactured fentanyl.

Fentanyl is a painkiller so powerful that it’s normally used in hospital settings or it is given out in patches or slow-dissolving lollipops to those in excruciating pain. For the second time in recent history, illicit fentanyl is flooding into the Northeast and contaminating supplies of heroin. This added ingredient makes the potency of heroin utterly unpredictable and people are dying as a result.

The last time illicit fentanyl hit the market in quantity, more than 1,000 people died. That supply came from just a couple of illicit labs in the U.S. or Mexico and when they were shut down, the deaths stopped. But now the supply comes from Asia by way of Mexico. It’s much harder to reach around the world to close a lab in China. And so this invasion of fentanyl is harder to squelch.

National statistics on fentanyl seizures

As reported in the New York Times, seizures both nationally and in Massachusetts are skyrocketing, as you can see in these two graphs

Some of this increase (but not all of it) could be attributed to more detailed testing and reporting of law enforcement agencies.

How Fentanyl Reaches the Streets

Fentanyl can be found mixed into heroin or it may be sold by itself. One might think that an addict would be fearful of injecting an opioid when it might be powerful enough to kill him, but one person reported that when she heard of a strong batch of drugs killing people, she would seek out dealers selling that batch. It’s hard to grasp this idea if you have never been addicted, but many people lose hope of ever getting sober and don’t really care if they die from their next injection.

Massachusetts fentanyl seizure statistics

Of course, when the drugs leave their systems and they start to feel better, they care about being alive – deeply.

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Statistics on fentanyl seizures nationally and in Massachusetts from


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.