It’s not the actual drug, and dealers can’t be prosecuted for peddling it, but fake fentanyl can kill like the real thing — and that’s exactly what it did 48 times last year in Brooklyn and Staten Island, a city prosecutor said Wednesday.
Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan plans to share that shocking fact with the City Council on Thursday during a Committee on the Justice System hearing to examine how local law enforcement agencies handle the opioid crisis. Brennan said she is especially alarmed by the seemingly new trend of modified street fentanyl — which on average is already some 50 times more potent than heroin — being used with regularity.
Fentanyl analogs, as the opioids are called, are technically legal because their ingredients verge just enough from the real formulation to not fall under the law. They have changed the landscape and can be even more dangerous and unpredictable than their genuine counterpart, the drug prosecutor said.
“They’re tweaks on fentanyl,” Brennan told the Daily News. “They’re just a little different in their composition. Because they’re a little different, they aren’t covered by the state law.”
The state Legislature in October added just two of the 11 analogs Gov. Cuomo proposed to the controlled substances log. Brennan said that’s just a fraction of what’s needed. And the 48 OD deaths the narcotics prosecutor cited were caused by one of the nine still-legal analogs that did not make the cut.
Her office is currently reviewing toxicology results in overdose deaths from other parts of the city and expects to see similar heartbreaking results.
Data provided by Brennan’s office shows one analog, fluroisobutyryl fentanyl, was found in 30 of the 48 deaths they identified in Staten Island and the lower half of Brooklyn, which includes neighborhoods such as Bay Ridge, Park Slope and Coney Island.
It is believed that analogs originate in China and are sent to the U.S. in small, hard-to-detect packages, via mail or private shipment services.
Brennan said analogs hinder their investigations, which often begin with street-level interactions and grow into larger probes.
“It really impedes our ability to get to the top of the distribution chain and turn off the supply of drugs that are killing so many people,” she said.
The fact that most analogs are legal means “we can’t get wiretaps or search warrants or any of those kind of techniques that we would use, and that we do use, in an instance when we’re dealing with a controlled substance,” Brennan added.
City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Queens) said Thursday’s hearing was called “to ensure that we are prosecuting the right people in the right way, that we are not overprosecuting, that we are focusing on the big shots and the ones who are leading the organizations and the operations that are spreading opioids in our city.”
The DA’s offices from all five boroughs will also be represented at the hearing.
Lancman said it’s important to ensure “we’re not overprosecuting low-level users either for the consequences of a friend of theirs overdosing or making people who are drug addicts into dealers.”
The hearing comes on the heels of a New York Times report about jurisdictions around the country that investigate opioid-related overdoses as homicides, sometimes bringing charges against friends and relatives of the deceased.
He said he also wants to examine how the boroughs use public money for drug diversion programs to ensure “the maximum eligibility possible consistent with public safety.”
“Were putting a lot of money into these programs. We want to make sure they’re reaching all the people they need to reach, and frankly, we want to know whether each office program has the capacity to serve all the people that need to be served,” he added.