Fentanyl is among the greatest killers in the opioid epidemic. NPR’s Leila Fadel speaks with Ben Westhoff, author of the brand-new book Fentanyl, Inc., which tracks the increase of the miracle drug.


Americans are passing away of opioid overdoses at a worrying rate. And fentanyl, a drug produced in laboratories in the 1960 s, is amongst the greatest killers. To comprehend how fentanyl took its location atop America’s opioid crisis, reporter Ben Westhoff took a trip the world. His brand-new book, “Fentanyl, Inc.,” traces the crisis through the researchers who produced fentanyl, the rogue chemists who duplicated it and its users. Ben Westhoff joins us now. Welcome.

BEN WESTHOFF: Thank you for having me.

FADEL: So why do not you begin by informing me what set you on this journey, what you were looking for when you began taking a trip throughout the U.S., the world and wound up with this book?

WESTHOFF: I was discussing music in Los Angeles when I saw that somebody was passing away at raves nearly each time there was a rave and I was questioning what was adulterating the euphoria that these kids were passing away from. And I found out there was this entire brand-new crop of miracle drugs that were being constructed out of laboratories in China that no one understood much of anything about.

FADEL: So how and why was fentanyl produced?

WESTHOFF: Fentanyl started as a crucial pharmaceutical substance abuse in epidurals and all sorts of things for individuals who remained in healthcare facilities. And ever since, it has actually come out of the pharmaceutical world and entered into the illegal world utilized by drug dealerships.

FADEL: So how does that take place, where it goes from something that researchers are developing to assist individuals in healthcare facilities and winds up eliminating individuals at raves?

WESTHOFF: In the old days when researchers studied something and discussed their findings in a paper, these documents were mainly in university libraries. However in the Web age, all of these documents began being released on the Web. Therefore rogue chemists might discover them that method, and they might go into the research study and copy the synthesis methods themselves.

FADEL: You understand, as I read your book, it seemed like attempting to manage this and handle it was a video game of whack-a-mole. Nations would prohibit one drug, and researchers or rogue chemists would produce brand-new ones, more hazardous ones, and after that the list would grow of various kinds of drugs. Can you speak about this cycle?

WESTHOFF: Yeah. If you take fentanyl, for instance, as soon as fentanyl was prohibited years earlier, chemists merely altered the molecular structure simply a little bit and had the ability to produce something that was now legal however still had essentially the exact same impacts as fentanyl. And there have actually been lots of these, which are called analogs, ever since. And locations like the U.S. have basically blanket prohibited all the kinds of fentanyl. However till just recently in China, they might just prohibit these drugs one by one. Therefore whenever China prohibited a brand-new one, the chemists would merely fine-tune the formula simply a little and now offer the brand-new item.

FADEL: Now, you took a trip to China for your book. Inform me about those journeys, and what were you searching for?

WESTHOFF: I pretended to be a client, and I wished to see how these operations ran due to the fact that there was actually no info learnt about these Chinese fentanyl laboratories. Therefore I began simply by Googling buy drugs in China, and all these various business sites turned up. And I stated I was a client, and would they want to reveal me their laboratory if I concerned China? And an unexpected variety of them stated yes. And what I saw was actually stunning. There are these big stacks of drugs being manufactured, big stacks on the counters of these laboratory tables, and simply the entire scope of the operation was much larger than I would have believed.

FADEL: I wonder. You stated you concealed your identity as a press reporter. Why did you make that choice? You understand, generally we state who we are, that example. I’m simply questioning.

WESTHOFF: I attempted that method initially, however, actually, no one wished to talk with me. Therefore I understood that the only method I might enter into these locations was to go undercover.

FADEL: You understand, there’s been some landmark choices this previous week with pharmaceutical business being blamed for sustaining the opioid crisis here. You composed a lot about pharmaceutical business and their function in the opioid epidemic. I’m simply questioning what you think about this previous week’s news.

WESTHOFF: Well, I type of compare it to the huge tobacco settlements from the ’90 s. And I believe it’s great that there will be moneying for all these brand-new avoidance programs, for these treatment programs that we so frantically require. However at the exact same time, a great deal of – it actually is simply a drop in the pail for a great deal of these business who made billions and billions and billions of dollars. So I have actually blended sensations about them.

FADEL: You understand, the book set out a great deal of drug policies that aren’t working, a multibillion-dollar war on drugs that isn’t working, outright prohibiting of compounds that appears to cause brand-new and more hazardous compounds being presented into the marketplace. And I simply question, what does work? What will work?

WESTHOFF: I believe we require to practice something called damage decrease, which essentially is confessing that individuals are going to constantly utilize drugs. And as soon as you confess that, you can begin making certain individuals utilize them more securely.

FADEL: Ben Westhoff, author of the brand-new book “Fentanyl, Inc.,” thank you a lot.

WESTHOFF: Thank you quite.

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