Largely unavailable in suburban illicit drug markets three years ago, today fentanyl has become the main drug of choice or at least availability. With the clampdown on prescription drugs, notably oxycodone and hydrocodone, it is increasingly difficult to get access to prescription opioids in the Philadelphia suburbs.
Dealers prefer to sell fentanyl for several reasons. First, the supply is more reliable. This is quite remarkable since legal fentanyl supply is small and tightly controlled, whereas oxycodone, hydrocodone, etc., are widely available in the legal market. But dealers have reliable supply from illicit traders, sourcing from Mexico or even directly from China. It was noticeable that the phase one US-China trade deal did not address fentanyl production, I suspect because Beijing cannot control its chemical industry in any normal regulatory sense (they could shut it down, but they won’t because they would lose tens of millions of jobs). Second, the supply of prescription opioids has been curtailed due to US government actions against access. To my knowledge of the suburban Philadelphia illicit markets, while oxycodone has increased in price and reduced in availability, the opposite has happened with fentanyl.
Third, and most importantly, dealers make more money selling fentanyl, probably because they cut it with inert substances and make their supply go further than with other drugs.
Dealers used to diluting their products were quick to realize that cutting fentanyl makes them more money and lowers the risk that buyers will die from overdosing. They also sell — and encourage fentanyl users to buy — products that can counteract an overdose.
The result is a lowering of fatal overdoses, although they are still way above long-run averages. But with the coronavirus and other topics dominating US news, the current death rate may be the new normal.
This story was first published by AEI.