Fentanyl Could Produce Big Changes in the Illicit Drug Trade

Kris Grogan/Planet Pix via ZUMA

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

I’ve been vaguely wondering for a while if fentanyl will upend the market for heroin, cocaine, and other opioids. Fentanyl is not only super powerful, but you can make it in a lab, like meth, which means it should be pretty attractive to both users and sellers. Keith Humphreys agrees:

Opium poppy-sourced drugs depend on control of arable land in countries where law enforcement is a minimal or at least corruptible presence. Plant-based opium production also requires a substantial number of agricultural worker….Even if old-line agriculturally based producers shift some of their opioid business to fentanyl, as have a few Mexican cartels, they find themselves in a weaker position because they no longer gain the political capital they once did from providing plentiful drug-production jobs to local residents.

Transnational criminal organizations with smuggling expertise are also being financially squeezed by fentanyl….Fentanyl, being enormously more potent per gram, is so compact that people with no particular smuggling expertise can ship it overseas in a regular-size piece of mail with little chance of it being detected.

….If synthetic drugs become dominant, the United States and other consuming nations will no longer be concerned about developing-world drug crops, removing a burr from under the saddle of international relationships and potentially weakening insurgencies abroad at the same time.

Well, that’s interesting. But fentanyl has been around for a long time, and only recently has its use become widespread. Why? Is it hard to make outside an industrial lab? Is it just too dangerous? A few grains can be deadly, after all. Is there more here than meets the eye?

I don’t know. But if you’re interested in a little ground-level perspective, read “The Walter White of Wichita,” by Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster. It’s about the guy who started the first fentanyl epidemic in the early 90s.

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. It's our first time asking for an outpouring of support since screams of FAKE NEWS and so much of what Trump stood for made everything we do so visceral. Like most newsrooms, we face incredibly hard budget realities, and it's unnerving needing to raise big money when traffic is down.

So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate