Deadly chemistry

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Science  31 Mar 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6332, pp. 1364-1366
DOI: 10.1126/science.355.6332.1364

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Fentanyl, a synthetic opiate about 100 times more potent than morphine, and its analogs are new faces of a worsening addiction scourge in the United States. In 2015, opiates factored in 33,091 U.S. deaths, up more than 4000 from the previous year. The opium poppy is no longer the starting point for many of the opiates on the street. The new compounds, often sold mixed with heroin, originate in illicit labs in China. In underground Chinese labs, unscrupulous chemists have created new, unregulated fentanyl variants, some of them even more potent than the original. The fentanyl derivatives not only allow makers and dealers to elude law enforcement; they blindside public health authorities and they make addiction even riskier.

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