Fentanyl Inc.

How Rogue Chemists Are Creating the Deadliest Wave of the Opioid Epidemic, by Ben Westhoff

Atlantic Monthly Press, 2019


Larry Newman

I’d heard so much about this new street drug that is alleged to be forty times more powerful than heroin that I had to buy this book. Then I found out that there is carfentenil, a hundred times more powerful and dangerous than fentanyl. Wow! We are feeling the effect of these drugs right here in Sandy Hill.

The author of Fentanyl, Inc., Ben Westhoff, is a journalist who became alarmed by and ultimately fascinated with the drug scene and its complexity. He has done an in-depth study of the drug, its chemistry, its history, its effects on drug users. As part of this study, he describes many other drugs, their chemical makeup, their advocates, and their sources. Of all these drugs, fentanyl is the big dog!

Fentanyl is called a Novel Psychoactive Substance. Wikipedia lists seventeen NPSs including alcohol and tobacco. Centuries ago, man enjoyed these drugs. Then they discovered how to make them more powerful. Opium was created from the poppy plant; morphine came next from the same poppy. Then came hash, LSD, cocaine, heroin. These were all plant based drugs. Manual harvesting of these raw materials was no problem when demand was relatively low. However, it was a big drawback when it came to expanding supply. If you want to make a lot of money, there were other drugs—legal too—that could be mass produced. Some were opioids, a synthetic drug similar to opium.

Most of us have heard of OxyContin, a legal opioid painkiller produced and flogged by Purdue Pharma. It is an extremely effective painkiller and consequently easy to abuse. Many became addicted and overdoses were common.

Soon the chemical formulas of legal drugs developed by pharmaceutical companies were discovered by people who had the requisite chemistry skills and were willing to take a risk. We then began to see the same drugs or their analogues made in illegal labs. Fentanyl, for example, is used legally in common surgical practice. The formula for fentanyl is publicly available and a competent chemist can make it or any one of its possibly hundreds of analogues.

Many other psychoactive drugs started out as legitimate chemicals created in drug company labs. Ecstasy was created by the German pharmaceutical company Merck when it was trying to develop a blood clotting drug.

Most non-medical fentanyl is not produced in North America, where recreational use has long been illegal, but in China. For many years, recreational use was legal there and a lot of labs were built to produce fentanyl as well as other psychoactive drugs. In 2019 the Chinese federal government finally agreed to U.S. demands to “schedule fentanyl,” that is, make the production and sale of recreational fentanyl illegal. However, there is much anecdotal evidence of lax enforcement.

It is astonishingly easy to buy fentanyl. Westhoff knows how it’s done and now I know too. Just as a test, I googled “buy fentanyl in China” on my Chrome browser. On the first page of hits, I found a site that advertised pills, patches, and injectable fentanyl. “We provide special undetectable anti X-Ray wrapping. That way, the only person getting excited about your delivery, is you.” Expect to pay with Bitcoin. On the same google page, I found a forum where drug users can exchange information on where to buy and which firm sells good produce, etc.

For those who want to be a little more discrete, Westhoff mentions the “TOR browser” to access what I’ve heard called the “Dark Web.” He tried this and had conversations with drug sellers that sound like ordinary conversations between a buyer and seller of garden produce. WhatsApp is a commonly used messaging app in this business since its messages are encrypted. Am I the only one shocked to realize how easy it is to acquire super dangerous drugs? I hope not.

Obviously, there are drugs that can be bought with cash from a local dealer. The local dealer is the last cog in the drug creation and delivery system. The most common route from the lab in China to Main Street is through Mexico. The drug cartel, Sinaloa, has been identified by U.S. intelligence sources as the majority smuggler of fentanyl into North America. Unlike drugs bought by individuals direct from China, Sinaloa’s product is heavily diluted with other drugs including caffeine, carfentenil (100 times more powerful than fentanyl), levamisole, U49900, methylone, etc.

Read this book! Learn how the author traveled to China and interviewed lab operators to find out just how they were able to get away with producing and selling these drugs. Learn about some of the colourful characters involved in the early days of the drug world. Learn how fentanyl “has become a source of such astonishing wealth that it has disrupted the Vancouver-area real estate market.” Learn…..