Feds issue alert over deadly contaminated cocaine in Florida

City of Miami Fire Rescue unit works on an overdose victim in Overtown in November 2016.
City of Miami Fire Rescue unit works on an overdose victim in Overtown in November 2016. Miami Herald File

The Drug Enforcement Administration issued a warning Friday about a lethal synthetic form of cocaine that has become widespread in Florida.

Even occasional cocaine users are at high risk for overdose.

A yearlong review of cocaine acquired by law enforcement during drug busts across Florida found widespread contamination with fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances.

The DEA’s concern is with the toxicity of the contaminants.

Cocaine caused more deaths in Florida than any other drug in 2016. Total drug-related deaths grew by 22 percent compared to 2015, and cocaine-related fatalities doubled over the past four years. Miami-Dade averaged about 36 cocaine-related deaths each month in 2016.

Miami deaths from cocaine in combination with other drugs numbered 392 in 2016. In Fort Lauderdale, the number was 275.

Captain Tony Milan, and battalion commander for City of Miami Fire Rescue, works on an overdose victim in Overtown in November 2016.

Opioid addicts are overdosing in staggering numbers across Miami-Dade County — and the “hot zone” for the growing epidemic is the streets of Overtown, the Miami Herald reported last December as the DEA study neared its conclusion.

Fentanyl, a Schedule II opioid analgesic approximately 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, carries a high risk of overdose and can be lethal at the 2 milligram range. Forensic chemists discovered fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances including acetyl fentanyl, carfentanil, furanyl fentanyl, and p-fluoroisobutyryl fentanyl in over 180 cocaine exhibits.

fentanyl hand
A reporter holds up an example of the amount of fentanyl that can be deadly at DEA Headquarters in Arlington Virginia, June 6, 2017. Jacquelyn Martin AP

Carfentanil, a synthetic opioid that is about 10,000 times more potent than morphine, was the most prevalent of the fentanyl-related substances found in Florida’s cocaine seizures, according to the report.

More cocaine-opioid mixtures were found in Miami-Dade than any other county in the state.

The widespread seizures of contaminated cocaine indicate that drug dealers are commonly mixing fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances into the drug, the report said.

“In some cases, this is done purposefully to increase the drug’s potency or profitability. In other cases, fentanyl is inadvertently mixed into cocaine by drug dealers using the same blending equipment to cut various types of drugs, such as heroin,” the report said.

“Regardless, the adulteration often occurs without the users’ awareness, which leads to overdose incidents,” the report added. “Individuals who use cocaine occasionally are at an extremely high risk of overdose.”

Howard Cohen: 305-376-3619, @HowardCohen

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