In its pure form, fentanyl is 100 times stronger than morphine and 50 times stronger than heroin. And the drug has become increasingly common in the U.S. as people addicted to opioids – many as a result of painkillers prescribed for legitimate medical reasons – turn to alternative sources.
Fentanyl also is a legitimate painkiller, but it must be carefully administered, and that usually happens via a time-release patch.
But much of the fentanyl sold illegally in the U.S. is in the form of “knockoff” prescription pain pills.
And the source for it is primarily laboratories based in China or western Mexico that manufacture the drug from precursor chemicals obtained in China, India and other Asian countries.
A kilogram of fentanyl in highly diluted form is worth about $3,000 in Mexico and triple that in the southwestern United States. The price soars to $18,000 per kilogram in the Northeast.
Although the drug is fairly simple to make with the right precursor chemicals, the purity of fentanyl produced in Mexican laboratories varies widely.