Attorney General discusses efforts to combat rise of fentanyl

August 24, 2017 | Health Care, Politics
A record-setting 31 pounds of the deadly synthetic opioid were seized in Camden.

We’re delving into details of the biggest fentanyl bust in state history. Involving one of the deadliest synthetic opioids in history. State and federal investigators tracked shipments from China netting 31 pounds of the poison. Five million lethal does worth. The state attorney general said “enough to kill more than half the state’s population. Chris Porrino sat down with Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron.

Aron: General Porrino, your office indicted a 23-year-old Camden man on fentanyl charges this week. Why is that bust so significant?

Porrino: So, this was the largest fentanyl bust in New Jersey’s history. 31 pounds of one of the most deadliest substances we’ve ever seen on the streets. We break it down in the following way: 31 pounds of fentanyl if cut into seperate lethal doses, would be about five million lethal doses of fentanyl. And when we talk about that in the context of population of the state of New Jersey, it’s enough to kill more than half of us.

Aron: The fentanyl came from China I read and we were wondering if you seize 31 pounds from one man in Camden did more from China, end up in other hands in New Jersey. How can we be sure of that?

Porrino: So, we actually seize 31 pounds from a number of locations. This individual had in his residence several of those pounds. So the investigation was even broader than that. Unfortunately, fentanyl is coming in to this country from China and not every dose are we catching. We are doing as good of a job as we can, working with our federal partners and I have to say I am as proud as I could be watching the collaboration among law enforcement to make busts like this. But, there is a lot of fentanyl coming into this country.

Aron: What form is it in? Is it powder? Is it pills? I remember I wore a fentanyl patch for pain management after surgery, what form is it?

Porrino: This synthetic illegal lethal fentanyl is usually in powder form. It’s so deadly that you don’t have to injest it, you don’t have to snort it. If you touch it in many cases, you’ll overdose. We had cases of our own state police lab technician by accident coming into contact with her skin with pure fentanyl. She had to be narcand to save her. Drug sniffing dogs that go into an apartment that has been cleaned and swept overdosing because of this drug. We had a dog, not a state police dog that had to be narcand. So, this drug is as deadly as it comes and when people on the street are out buying heroin, that’s very often cut with it. You’re relying on a drug dealer in a kitchen somewhere to make sure the mix is right.

Aron: Why is heroin cut with fentanyl?

Porrino: It just increases the potency. So, when you suffer from this disease and you are addicted, individuals are looking for the most potent drugs that they can find and fentanyl increases the potency. So much so that we’ve seen in situations were drug dealers will lace one in every 100 bags of heroin with a lethal dose with the expressed purpose of killing someone.

Aron: Why?

Porrino: So, you would say why would a drug dealer kill a customer and the answer is marketing. Word gets out on the street that that dealer has the most potent heroin and that increases sales.

Aron: That’s chilling. Where on the spectrum is fentanyl in relation to heroin and opioid in pill form?

Porrino: In terms of it’s strength, it’s completely off of the charts. They say its 50 to 100 more times potent than heroin, but having never tried heroin what does that really mean? It means that a couple of granules that come in contact with your finger can be enough to cause you to overdose.

Aron: So, I was wearing patches of it and surgical patients wear patches of it. It must be a tiny dose within a packet.

Porrino: It’s medically administered through a delivery system that causes it to be utilized in a way that is hopefully safe. But, we’ve seen cases and you’ve reported on cases where doctors have prescribed fentanyl related pain relieve mechanisms for people who don’t really need them. We had a case last year, a death resulting from an individual who was prescribed fentanyl. Someone who really didn’t need it and he was killed.

Aron: Where are we on the timeline on winning the war on opioids?

Porrino: So, we look at this in a couple of baskets: prevention, treatment and what I’ll call enforcement. We spend an awful lot of time on prevention and what we do in the attorney general’s office on that front is we provide education to help individuals understand the dangers of these drugs, but we also understand that 8 out of 10 heroin addicts walking the streets in New Jersey and across the country, became addicted through the use of opioid pain killers. Pain killers that came in a bottle from the doctor. Now, maybe you didn’t get the prescription yourself maybe the prescription was diverted, but 8 out of 10 heroin addicts, people who are exposed to these heroin mixes with fentanyl became addicted through the use of these pills. So, part of the prevention mechanism is to focus intently on reducing the number of these highly addictive opioid pain killers on the street. So, how do you do that? We change the rules by emergency regulation and then the legislature and with the governors tremendous leadership here changed the rules about how opioid pain killers can be prescribed. So, if you walk in to a doctor with an acute pain problem, a wisdom tooth extraction, or an appendix operation and you need opioid pain killer to get through that the most you can get in your initial prescription is five days. And so rather than walking out with pills for 30 days or longer, you’re walking out with a much smaller dose. That has increased awareness in a way that I don’t think any of us really anticipated in New Jersey. Doctors talk, it’s a relatively small community and the word really has got out in a way that we are very happy with. So, when we bring down, what we hope is that the supply of what’s causing the addiction, fewer people will become addicted. Problem is there are a lot of people who are already addicted in New Jersey and across the country and we need to deal with those folks as well and the governor and other colleagues of mine in the cabinet are working hard on the treatment front.

Aron: Attorney General Chris Porrino thanks for explaining the dimensions of the problem to us.

Porrino: My pleasure and I appreciate your help spreading the word.