Searching for an Overdose: Fentanyl in Mexico

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There are several complicated factors that play key roles in the vast increases in fentanyl availability in American street drug markets. Most of those factors involve economic pressures. Fentanyl is much cheaper to produce, much easier to produce, and much easier to transport compared to heroin (the most common drug of choice for new fentanyl users). While it is true that many users of drugs like Xanax, methamphetamine, and cocaine are also having drugs laced with fentanyl enter the drug supply, heroin users are still the main group of drug addicts that sometimes actively search out “china white”, or powder heroin that is often laced with fentanyl in 2022 (Much of this China White heroin no longer contains any actual heroin). Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and other health experts in Northern Mexico decided to study the rates that fentanyl was being found in the supplies of drugs being used by heroin addicts in Northern Mexico, and they also studied how often users were searching for fentanyl laced products on purpose. This is not only important for Mexico and its own health care initiatives, but much of the United States and world’s heroin and fentanyl supply is currently coming through this area of Northern Mexico.

“China White Heroin”

This heroin that is being called “China White” in the Mexican drug markets is certainly not the only heroin found on the street that contains fentanyl. It is completely normal for everyday heroin users all over the Unites States to test positive for fentanyl and have no heroin in their systems even when they believed they were using heroin regularly. This is a common occurrence at the best drug and alcohol rehabs in the country, including Florida Springs Wellness and Recovery Center in Panama City, where patients entering treatment routinely fail initial drug screening tests for fentanyl. This is simply to ascertain what drugs are in a patient’s system, as “failing” the drug test is expected. Although fentanyl is now ubiquitous on both American and Mexican streets, the authors of this study looked at “China White” in particular, as they learned that users who wanted fentanyl laced heroin would often seek out “China White”.

Drug Checking

The authors note that “drug checking”, or using test strips to test for fentanyl is incredibly important at the current time and going forward in order to make users safer from the incredibly deadly effects of fentanyl. Even if a positive fentanyl test strip will not make a user throw a batch of drugs away, the knowledge that fentanyl is present may serve to make overdose less likely as the user can use less of the drug and use more caution upon first trying the drug. This has become standard advice from harm reduction advocates. At the best drug and alcohol rehabs in Florida, we know that abstinence from heroin and fentanyl is the goal, but if a person is going to use substances that might contain fentanyl, then harm reduction is incredibly valuable for saving lives and reducing death and injury from overdose.

According to the authors, beyond just the anti-overdose effects, “Drug checking should extend to other border cities… because fentanyl‐related overdoses and other associated damages are likely to spread. Additional studies are also required to confirm the presence not only of this opioid, but also of more potent analogues and other adulterants. As this pilot study shows, other severe forms of damage are caused to the health of people who inject drugs (PWID), such as severe skin lesions.”

Results of Northern Mexico Testing

93% of powder fentanyl tested in the Northern Mexico study contained fentanyl, and the study found that China White powder was the most popular with users. Like California and Nevada, black tar heroin has been, by far, the most common form of heroin present in these markets for several decades. The advent of heroin is changing all that, and we will no doubt see these same types of outcomes if similar testing was done in California right now and in the near future. As the authors note, results of this magnitude are a strong epidemiological warning to all health systems in the Americas. The fentanyl problem will only grow, and tightening border security is not an effective strategy for reducing this problem, because fentanyl comes from China as well, and there is already enough fentanyl on the streets of America to kill millions. Only education, treatment, and further funding of proven addiction prevention initiatives can help at this point. The best drug and alcohol rehabs in the country are constantly treating people for heroin and fentanyl addiction, and this will remain the status quo into the future, so harm reduction and increased funding for treatment are the most important areas to focus on in 2022.

By T.A. Cannon


FLEIZ, C. et al. Fentanyl is used in Mexico’s northern border: current challenges for drug health policies. Addiction (Abingdon, England), [s. l.], v. 115, n. 4, p. 778–781, 2020. DOI 10.1111/add.14934. Disponível em: Acesso em: 20 abr. 2022.