I wrote about Fentanyl 32-years ago
Unfortunately few were listening
In January 1990, in an article entitled “The Next Nightmare,” I reported about the emerging multi-billion dollar illegal trade in “designer drugs,” led by fentanyl. An amount of fentanyl “no larger than a loaf of bread” was “worth $1 billon on the black market.”
“The first group mimics heroin and other opiates. It is composed of derivative drugs (analogues) produced from a synthetic anesthetic called fentanyl. It may be the most powerful addictive drug of its kind, nearly 40 times stronger than pure heroin. Chemical derivatives of fentanyl can be 6,000 times as strong as morphine. Fentanyl provides a dramatic rush for the user, much more intense than a dose of heroin. However, the trade-off for this fleeting pleasure is addiction. The drug is addictive after a single shot, and the kick often ends in overdose. In Pittsburgh in 1988, a spate of 18 overdoses from street fentanyl marketed as China White is the most recent sign of the drug's killer potential. Sometimes the batch of drugs is not mixed correctly in the lab, and the side effects to users are devastating. One botched supply of MPPP (an analogue of the painkiller Demerol) produced a deadly neurotoxin that caused severe brain degeneration mimicking Parkinson's disease in more than 400 Califor nia users. Another mismatched batch of fentanyl so shocked the central ner vous system of its users that they de veloped total paralysis.
Despite the drastic unpredictability of fentanyl's side effects, the number of customers willing to experiment with the most powerful of drugs is apparently expanding. The D.E.A. office that tracks designer drugs cites evidence of growing markets in large cities, primarily on both coasts, and on college campuses in the Midwest and South. Some cocaine addicts use fentanyl analogues to come down from their accelerated high, resulting in a double addiction. More over, many heroin users buy street products that are cut with fentanyl analogues, and unknowingly develop an addiction to the synthetic product.”
I also wrote that right behind fentanyl were other synthetic drugs including club-drug ecstasy, and a powerful version of speed called Ice. A senior DEA official told me the potential scourge from fentanyl and other synthetics was a “pharmaceutical Frankenstein.”
A California prosecutor told me that the only reason that fentanyl and other synthetic narcotics had not already become America’s leading drug crisis was that no major organized-crime syndicate had taken control of the distribution. It is little wonder that it would not be long before domestic bikers gangs, Mexican cartels, and Chinese chemists, filled that void.
I had learned about fentanyl and other synthetic drugs while researching a book about international heroin syndicates in Southeast Asia and the U.S. That book - WARLORDS OF CRIME: Chinese Secret Societies - The New Mafia - was published by McGraw-Hill in 1988. The New York Times book review said it was “Powerful, frightening, and, unfortunately, nonfiction.”
In mid-1989, my agents at William Morris submitted a draft of my exposé about fentanyl and other synthetic drugs to a dozen mainstream magazines. They included, among others, Rolling Stone, The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, Time, and Vanity Fair. They all passed. None believed my sober prediction that fentanyl and its chemical cousins would soon deliver “a larger, nastier, and more intractable problem that we ever imagined. Entrepreneurial chemists are waiting with synthetic poisons for millions of American addicts.” After getting rejections from all the leading publications, my agents finally got the article printed in the January 1990 issue of Penthouse. There it was quickly forgotten.
I am somewhat bemused when I watch the rush of journalists today covering fentanyl as the country’s latest lethal drug problem. Maybe it would not be such a lethal and expanding epidemic if there had been a little more media interest 32-years ago.
Below are screenshots of the original article. The sections on fentanyl are highlighted.