Nov. 20, 2021 – While the mounting deaths show the devastating consequence of fentanyl’s seep, it is less widely understood why the drug has mushroomed. And why so many illicit products — from fentanyl-laced cocaine and crystal methamphetamines, to marijuana sprayed with fentanyl, to faux prescription pills that are in fact fentanyl, colored and stamped to resemble a brand-name drug — now contain it.

The spread of fentanyl has been stealthy, steady and deadly, according to interviews with nine people involved in the sale of illegal drugs in New York, where much of the country’s fentanyl enters the street market, as well as law enforcement and addiction experts. The identities and backgrounds of the nine people were confirmed by The Times through their criminal records, lawyers and addiction counselors.

People who intermittently use stimulants like cocaine, for example, have low tolerances for such powerful synthetic opioids, said Dr. Chinazo O. Cunningham, the executive deputy commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

In 2015, just 17 of the city’s overdose deaths involved cocaine and fentanyl, without heroin; that number rose to 183 in 2019, the last year for which data was available, according to the Health Department.


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