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Bitcoin for Fentanyl: How Drug Dealers Cash in on Cryptocurrency

Bitcoin for Fentanyl: How Drug Dealers Cash in on Cryptocurrency

Connect to the wifi and check your wallet app. Today we are talking about the crooked connections to cryptocurrency.

In a new age of electronic economics, one brand has made a lot of noise- Bitcoin. As early as 2009, when it was created, people began to stockpile the stuff. It was the first decentralized digital currency, and it has inspired thousands to risk this uncharted financial frontier with hopes of discovering a quick way to score some real-world cash from encrypted accounts. Then, just last year the cryptocurrency trend exploded onto Wall Street and ever since people have been trying to take advantage of the hype before the well runs dry. Suddenly anyone with a little extra scratch has become a cyber stockbroker.

While some have tried to cash in just to see if they can hit the crypto-lotto, others have become Bitcoin millionaires. But some of those people were actually gathering those funds through illicit means, like fentanyl trafficking.

Bitcoin for Beginners

For many of us, the whole Bitcoin thing is still a bit confusing. If some of these explanations seem oversimplified for anyone currently obsessed with cryptography, “block time” or whatever a “Merkle tree” is… I’m sorry, I guess.

Bitcoin was originally designed as being a truly free-market currency. This means without any company, country or central bank controlling its value or supply. Bitcoin takes no physical form, but actually only exists as a virtual token. Transactions are recorded in an open public ledger known as a blockchain. This peer-to-peer network avoids many risks of having a central database. But, while the transactions are typically public, the Bitcoin ownership is not.

The digital tokens are stored in a digital wallet that is only identified by a series of numbers and letters. A lot of times people using the digital wallet remain anonymous because they don’t have to provide any personal information to set up their accounts.

Because of all the freedom of Bitcoin, along with its anonymity, it became extremely useful for those involved with the Dark Web. You can read plenty more on that subject, but essentially is it another layer of the internet criminals use for conducting illicit business. One site from the Dark Web would be the infamous Silk Road.

The Future of Fentanyl Financing

Authorities say that bitcoin has helped create a new generation of criminals who buy and sell drugs online. It has become much easier for drug dealers to cover their tracks with cryptocurrencies.

Which of course leads us to fentanyl trafficking. For a long time the majority of drugs sold on the Dark Web were:

However, the sale of fentanyl is rising rapidly. Considering most fentanyl is sold online from dealers overseas, it makes a lot of sense that traffickers would rely heavily on digital money. Greg Nevano, the Deputy Assistant Director of Homeland Security Investigations states,

“You can order illicit opioids right online and have them delivered right to the comfort of your living room.”

According to CDC data, nearly 20,000 people died after overdosing on fentanyl in 2016. This is a huge contributing factor to one of the worst drug epidemics in American history.

For example, undercover investigators working for a Senate committee led by Ohio Republican Rob Portman talk about an e-mail from a fentanyl dealer with an important message for potential buyers. The fentanyl trafficker states:

“We have switched to bitcoin payments only. Now you will enjoy a 10 percent less price tag on all products,”

The email also points out:

“Good part is that paying by bitcoin you can order as much as you like with no limit.”

Ohio is suffering from one of the highest rates of fentanyl overdose deaths in the country. This particular investigation was part of a yearlong inquiry into the international supply chain that funnels fentanyl from China to homes across America. Earlier this year, the committee released a report which tracked activity on six websites offering fentanyl. That report indicated:

In each of these cases, the sites list bitcoin as the preferred method of payment. Portman himself adds,

“Because it’s anonymous, it’s the currency of choice for these drug traffickers,”

Just last fall the Justice Department shut down another illicit online marketplace called AlphaBay. In this case, the Justice Department seized around 144,000 Bitcoins, which comes out to around $48 million.

Cracking Down on Cryptocurrency

Lawmakers in Washington have come to the conclusion that cracking down on cryptocurrency is essential in order to stop the flow of fentanyl coming into the United States. Thankfully, this is one thing that officials from both sides of the aisle agree must be addressed.

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley from Iowa and Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein from California have presented a bipartisan bill that would create explicit requirements for digital currencies to comply with laws against money laundering. Attorney General Jeff Sessions launched a task force earlier this year to specifically target fentanyl sales online.

Can We Blame the Crypto?

Meanwhile, many advocates for cryptocurrencies are not happy about these new campaigns. Perianne Boring, president of the Chamber of Digital Commerce, is one person who fights on behalf of Bitcoin, stating:

“Blaming bitcoin for this crisis would make as much sense as blaming the internet or cars that drug traffickers have to use.”

Boring’s organization is trying to help. They are part of the Blockchain Alliance, working with more than two dozen companies to help authorities combat crime.

Industry groups also reject the claim that cryptocurrency is anonymous and untraceable. They say Bitcoin users are “pseudononymous” because buying Bitcoin does require real money. Advocates insist that most users convert real cash through exchangers that do actually collect personal information. They also argue that in order to spend that Bitcoin, users will have to convert it back to real money, and that’s where law enforcement can intercept illegal operators.

Crypto-advocates also point out that cryptocurrency exchangers in the United States are also subject to federal reporting requirements and laws against money laundering. Earlier this year an industry analysis by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies found:

  • Less than 1 percent of bitcoin is used for illegal purposes.
  • Almost all of the illicit activity came from transactions on the dark web

However, the report also goes into detail about ways criminals can avoid regulated currency exchangers altogether. This includes using foreign converters or “mixing” sites that allow users to swap Bitcoin.

Meanwhile, new cryptocurrencies that are even harder to trace are gaining in popularity. So it would seem that as soon as the system catches up to a new digital trend, someone creates a copy and the cycle starts all over.

So can Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies expect to be subject to new attempts at strict regulation? If so, what kind of regulations should be put in place to track digital transactions and prevent further abuse for illicit profits?

The evolution of the internet has changed how illicit drug markets work. The fight against drug trafficking is more complex than ever before, and strategies for facing drug dealing, drug use, and addiction have to evolve, too. This also means providing innovative and cutting-edge treatment options. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135. We want to help. You are not alone.   

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Opioid Crisis Continues to Get Worse: Overdoses Increase Nationwide

Opioid Crisis Continues to Get Worse: Overdoses Increase NationwideAuthor: Justin Mckibben

These days it is pretty much impossible to In case you missed it, the latest news concerning opioid overdoses in America is not good. Just this week a report was released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that only reminds us of just how horrific the opioid epidemic is. In most of the country, this crisis continues to get worse.

While we still don’t have a complete picture of the death toll in 2017 concerning opioids, the most up-to-date data shows that overdoses have spiked nationwide. Examining reports from hospital emergency rooms, the report compares the overall increase in opioid overdoses from the third quarter of 2016 up until the third quarter of 2017.

According to this data, opioid overdoses to increase by 30% in only a year.

Rising Overdose Rates by Region

In every age group, with both men and women, opioid overdoses are increasing, according to CDC Director Anne Schuchat. The Midwest has been the hardest hit region in that 12 month period. According to the CDC report:

  • 7% increase in opioid overdoses in the Midwest
  • 3% increase in the West
  • 3% increase in the Northeast
  • 2% increase in the Southwest
  • 14% increase in the Southeast

All this may not come as much of a surprise for many Midwesterners. When you look at the last few years, the opioid crisis has not been kind to these communities. Of the counties with the highest overdose death rates per capita over the last few years, we consistently find some of the top spots going to states like West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky.

Needless to say, these devastating figures aren’t exclusive to the Midwest. A few more examples include:

  • 109% increase of opioid overdose in Wisconsin
  • 105% increase in Delaware
  • 6% increase in Pennsylvania
  • 34% increase in Maine

Luckily, not all areas are experiencing record highs. Some states are actually fortunate enough to see a slight decrease in overdoses, including:

  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • Rhode Island

Even in Kentucky, which has been a Midwestern state hit pretty hard over the years, the CDC analysis saw a 15% drop.

The CDC report does not specify as to why certain regions are experiencing overdoses differently, but one factor experts say has most likely played a key role is the availability of more potent opioids. The synthetic opioid fentanyl has been making its way onto the streets more and more over the last couple years, and supply of drugs like fentanyl has increased much faster in certain areas, which probably has a lot to do with the difference in overdose rates per region.

Analyzing Opioid Crisis

The recent report was meant to take a closer look at the opioid crisis by analyzing overdose reports in emergency rooms instead of opioid deaths like the CDC had previously focused on. CDC Director Anne Schuchat said these numbers lag behind the emergency room reports, and that the agency wanted “more timely information” to work with.

The data utilized for this analysis came from:

  • Approximately 90 million emergency room visits
  • Reports from July 2016 to September 2017
  • 52 jurisdictions in 45 states
  • 142,577 suspected opioid overdoses

That survey found an increase of 29.7% in opioid overdoses. The research also analyzed:

  • 45 million emergency department visits
  • Reports from July 2016 to September 2017
  • 16 States
  • 119,198 suspected opioid overdoses

This analysis shows a 34.5% increase during the same period, but those increases vary drastically from state to state.

At the end of the day, there are a lot of opinions on how to look at this mountain of information and see a way through it. But many experts are convinced that so far we have been failing those who are suffering the most.  Dr. Andrew Kolodny, co-director of opioid policy research at Brandeis University, states:

“It is concerning that 20 years into this epidemic, it is still getting worse. The number of Americans experiencing opioid overdoses is still increasing.”

Jessica Hulsey Nickel, president and chief executive officer of the Addiction Policy Forum, is one of many voices who are advocating for a more compassionate and supportive system. Those like Nickel believe that the key element to changing the opioid crisis is better integration of addiction treatment into a more comprehensive and effective healthcare system. Some, including Nickel, believe even emergency room staff should be better prepared to help get follow-up addiction treatment for people with substance use disorder.

Addiction isn’t going away anytime soon, and perhaps one of the most tragic parts of the problem is that so many people never get the help they need. Too many are afraid to ask for help, and plenty more still don’t know how to get help. Providing safe and effective substance use disorder treatment isn’t just useful, but vital to our future. So taking advantage of these programs and supporting expanded access to addiction treatment should be at the forefront of the conversation if we hope to break this trend and save lives. If you or someone you love is suffering from substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free now. You are not alone.

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Fentanyl in Philadelphia Causing Severe Overdose Spike

Fentanyl in Philadelphia Causing Severe Overdose Spike

Author: Justin Mckibben

In Philadelphia, there have been nearly 800 fentanyl overdoses this year.

According to figures released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) a sharp rise in drug overdose deaths, which many attribute in part to fentanyl, is causing a drop in American life expectancy.

As 2018 begins, many are afraid of what the future may bring concerning more deadly drugs reaching the streets, overdoses, and deaths. One area, in particular, is the streets of Philadelphia. Now, many in the area are pointing out that heroin is no longer the poison most popular on the illicit market. Fentanyl in Philadelphia is now the main ingredient in the drug problem.

How Fentanyl in Philadelphia is Changing the Scene

Patrick Trainor is a special agent with the Philadelphia division of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Trainor has kept an eye on the Kensington neighborhood for two decades. When talking about the drastic impact the lethal synthetic opioid has brought to the heroin market, he states,

“Fentanyl has drastically changed the landscape… Sixty-four percent of fatals in Philadelphia County are fentanyl-related. There’s no dope out here now, it’s all fentanyl. Even the old timers are scared of it.”

In areas like Emerald Street, AKA Emerald City, even drug users carry Narcan regularly.

Dangers and Death

Even addicts who are now content with using fentanyl are aware of the risks. But many say that compared to heroin, fentanyl’s rush is intense and immediate.

It is painful to use because it burns the vein. Some choose to chance the elevated risk of abscesses by injecting under the skin. This practice is said to reduce the risk of overdose and prolong the high. Yet, overdoses come almost instantaneously. Beyond that, the comedown of fentanyl is said to be abrupt, and the withdrawal period is a long and difficult one.

Tolerance for the drug builds quickly; dependence on the drug is rapid and pretty much unavoidable. Even those revived by Narcan can fall back into overdose due to the immense strength of the drug.

Dealers Choice

A lot of the issues related to fentanyl in Philadelphia can be connected to how it hit the street in the first place. According to interviews with drug users in the Kensington area, when fentanyl first started flooding the market the dealers didn’t know how to handle it, and the users didn’t even know about it. They had no idea about the risks of the drug, and overdoses were everywhere.

But then the dealers caught on when customers started dying all over, and so they changed the way they cut the drug in order to keep their consumers. Trainor himself notes,

 “You’re paying the same for something that’s roughly 100 times more powerful, so why would you buy heroin? The demand is for the most powerful thing they can get. Heroin will never be able to compete with fentanyl. It just can’t.”

There is no wonder why fentanyl in Philadelphia has become the dealers choice, the economics of fentanyl trafficking are easy to understand.

Unlike with heroin, there is no need to wait for the poppy harvest to start production. To yield a kilo of fentanyl, the chemicals one would need cost less than $5,000. At $55,000-$60,000 per kilo delivered, fentanyl is the about the same price as heroin but earns traffickers far more once it is cut and packaged for the street.

Each kilo of fentanyl can be cut out to approximately 330,000 doses, according to Trainor. A single kilo is enough to kill half of the counties residents.

Two factors make fentanyl in Philadelphia such a difficult drug to get ahead of:

  1. No dominant trafficker

With drug problems in the past, a substance coming into any area would probably be controlled by a single, relatively predictable trafficker or trafficking family, but not with fentanyl.

This incredibly powerful and potentially life-threatening drug is coming from China, ordered over the dark web, or coming up from Mexico. It isn’t being shipped in through the typical channels, and thus law enforcement has found it increasingly difficult to track.

  1. It is easy to modify

Fentanyl is a synthetic drug, therefore it is pretty simple to change the formula. Every time traffickers make subtle changes to the chemical ingredients of their batch, the DEA analysts struggle to adapt and catch on before the recipe has been changed again.

Trainor states:

“It used to be just fentanyl but now we’ve noticed eight different analogs in this area and around 40 nationally. Our chemists estimate there could be 200 additional variants.”

One of those variants is Carfentanil. This horrifically hazardous material is a painkiller… for elephants and other large mammals! It is estimated to be up to 10,000 times stronger than morphine. Carfentanil has shown up in other areas in the past, such as Cleveland, Ohio. It is still rare for street consumption, but it has shown up along with fentanyl in Philadelphia medical examiner’s office.

Over the past three years, fentanyl-related deaths across America have increased by 540%. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, for the first time, the majority of fatal overdoses are fentanyl-related, accounting for nearly all the increases in drug overdose deaths from 2015 to 2016. Part of facing the ongoing opioid epidemic is providing effective and comprehensive addiction treatment opportunities. As more and more people die every day from these insidious substances we have to do all that we can to help fight back. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free now. We want to help!

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How Fentanyl Trafficking Packages are Still Getting into the Country

How Fentanyl Trafficking Packages are Still Getting into the Country

Author: Justin Mckibben

Deaths due to drugs like fentanyl and other synthetic opioids continue to rise at a devastating pace in America. Despite the implementation of a special opioid commission to tackle the opioid crisis head-on, and even after the President of the United States issued a public health emergency concerning this ongoing issue, drugs like fentanyl are still finding their way into the country.

So how is it that these dangerous drugs are still getting across our borders?

Mailing Law Loophole

Much of the current flow of fentanyl into America is said to be connected to a major loophole in mail security. As it stands, every day up to one million packages overall get into the US without being screened.

Under the current laws, most international packages must include some general information, such as:

  • Information on the sender
  • The packages destination
  • Contents of the package

These seemingly simple details can, in fact, help authorities track and detect packages containing illicit substances. However, these are not bulletproof methods of detections.

A big part of the problem is a loophole that exists within our current system. According to Alex Wolff, of the bipartisan coalition Americans for Securing All Packages, 

“Due to a loophole in the global postal system, packages sent via private couriers (like UPS or FedEx) are required to have the advance electronic data used by law enforcement to screen and stop dangerous material, while packages shipped via foreign postal services are not.”

Wolff explains that when materials are sent through certain channels from outside the country, they are sent without the necessary security data that law enforcement agencies require in order to screen and stop dangerous packages.

Considering that fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are expected to be produced primarily in China, much of the drug is being shipped through this international loophole right into the United States. Thus, law enforcement is essentially flying blind in their efforts to catch a lot of the drug as it slips into the country.

The STOP Act

In an effort to put an end to this exploitation of the mailing system, the Synthetics Trafficking & Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act was introduced to the Senate and House of Representatives in February of 2017. It is currently listed as H.R. 1057, as introduced by Republican Representative Patrick J. Tiberi of Ohio. This bipartisan and bicameral legislation could be a huge step forward. Sponsors for the bill include:

  • Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman
  • Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson
  • New Hampshire Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte

Each of these officials represents a state that has been hit hard by the opioid crisis. Surprisingly, almost a year later there has been no further action by Congress to pursue this bill.

Still, Alex Wolff remains optimistic that Congress will act soon to push the bill forward. Now the STOP Act also has the support of:

  • The National Council of State Legislators
  • Fraternal Order of Police
  • The American Medical Association

To clarify, there are a few other prominent “STOP” Acts in the past, including:

  • TheSober Truth on Preventing Underage Drinking Act (STOP Act) of 2006

This was America’s first comprehensive legislation on underage drinking.

  • The Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention (STOP) Act of 2017

This was a law for North Carolina aimed at curbing the misuse and abuse of opioids.

Putting a STOP to Fentanyl Shipping

Whether having tracking information on international packages seems like a big deal or not, most experts take it very seriously. According to former assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security Juliette Kayyem, who is a lecturer on international security at the Harvard Kennedy School,

“You have the demand problem, the public health problem of making sure people cannot be addicted, but on the supply-chain issue, one of the loopholes is clearly the postal system,”

True, not very many drug distributors write “fragile fentanyl shipment: Handle with care” on their postage. However, Kayyem says that collecting data from senders, even those who are less likely to be truthful is important for law enforcement to be able to stop drugs like fentanyl from coming into the country. Kayyem states that even if someone from another country is shipping things in and lies about what is in the package, that lie itself becomes a means to get them in the long run.

Should this bill be pushed into action? Is this enough, or should there be a way to impose even more strict regulations on international mailing to put a stop to the exploitation of the mailing system? Is this the best way to curb fentanyl use and overdose?

In the past few years, overdose deaths due to synthetic opioids like fentanyl have skyrocketed. Over 20,145 people died from synthetic opioids other than methadone in 2016. But the opioid crisis isn’t just about preventing the drug from coming into the US. We also need to support effective addiction treatment options. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free now.

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Every Walgreens Now Carrying Narcan Opioid Overdose Antidote

Every Walgreens Now Carrying Narcan Opioid Overdose Antidote

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Justin Mckibben

You may remember back in early 2016 the pharmacy organization Walgreens announced two programs to address key issues in the opioid crisis.

  • Safe medical disposal kiosks for unused prescription drugs
  • Narcan expansion programs

By the end of 2016, Walgreens had expanded access to the opioid overdose antidote without the requirement of a prescription to 33 states and the District of Columbia. The Narcan opioid overdose antidote, also known by the generic name Naloxone, is a nasal spray that is utilized all over the country as a means to revive someone experiencing an opioid overdose.

Now, this life-saving compound is becoming even more accessible, as Walgreens is announcing the Narcan opioid overdose antidote will now be available at all of its over 8,000 pharmacy locations!

Pharmacies Stepping Up to the State of Emergency

This new move to combat the opioid epidemic comes at a crucial time. The epidemic continues to claim lives every day, with recovery advocates and government officials rallying for more resources to fight the problem.

Today, Thursday, October 26, 2017, the nation is expecting President Donald Trump to officially declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency at a scheduled White House event.

According to Rick Gates, Vice President of Walgreens,

“By stocking Narcan in all our pharmacies, we are making it easier for families and caregivers to help their loved ones by having it on hand in case it is needed.”

The company offers Narcan opioid overdose antidote without a prescription in 45 states and is willing to work with the remaining states to make to include them.

Of course, the fight for more availability of Narcan and Naloxone has been going on for some time. However, it seems as the country is calling for more sweeping action from government officials; pharmacies are taking it as a call to action themselves. Rick Gates went on to say,

“As a pharmacy, we are committed to making Narcan more accessible in the communities we serve.”

Walgreens also says it will inform customers about the Narcan opioid overdose antidote if they receive drugs with more than 50 morphine milligram equivalents (MME). This is actually a recommendation from the CDC.

It isn’t just Walgreens either. CVS pharmacy has expanded access to Narcan and other products that contain naloxone. CVS reportedly has been offering prescription-free naloxone in up to 43 states as of last month. CVS pharmacies have said that its locations “in most communities have naloxone on hand and can dispense it the same day or ordered for the next business day.”

Big Pharma’s Role

Big Pharma wholesaler AmerisourceBergen is also helping in these efforts. AmerisourceBergen is now distributing Narcan demo devices at no cost to Walgreens pharmacists. These demo devices will help with instructing patients on how to administer the medication safely and effectively.

Robert Mauch, Executive Vice President & Group President, Pharmaceutical Distribution & Strategic Global Sourcing for AmerisourceBergen, states,

“At AmerisourceBergen, we strive to provide our customers the highest quality care and support so they can ultimately enhance the lives of patients in their communities,”

“We recognize the important role we play in addressing the opioid epidemic, and our collaboration with Walgreens is another key milestone to supply our customers with access to lifesaving initiatives and emergency medications that can help keep individuals safe across the country.”

Ironically, AmerisourceBergen just so happens to be one of the three largest drug distributors that were mentioned in the recent 60 Minutes interview with ex-DEA agent Joe Rannazzisi. In the segment that has since caused a major uproar, Rabbazzisi said companies including AmerisourceBergen controlled probably 85%- 90% of drugs that went “downstream” and ended up on the streets.

This might not be what Mauch meant by “recognize the important role we play”, but at least it seems like AmerisourceBergen is taking steps to become part of a solution.

Meanwhile, Adapt Pharma, the manufacturer of Narcan Nasal Spray, celebrates this action by Walgreens to expand naloxone and Narcan access. Seamus Mulligan, CEO at Adapt Pharma states,

“This action is an important milestone and we applaud Walgreens initiatives to improve access to Narcan Nasal Spray in communities across the U.S.,”

“This effort, combined with the opportunity for patients and caregivers to obtain Narcan Nasal Spray without an individual prescription in 45 states, is critical in combating this crisis.”

America is working hard to find the right path on the road to recovery from the devastating opioid crisis. It is crucial that we make every possible resource available to help save lives. With opioid overdose killing an estimated 91 people every day, the need for this life-saving medication could not be more evident.

Beyond reversing the effects of an overdose, there is more we need to do. While having access to Narcan and naloxone can help tremendously, we also need to promote recovery and addiction treatment resources. Preservation of life is important, but giving people the help they need to live a happier and healthier life should also be a priority in the fight to overcome the opioid crisis. Palm Partners Recovery Center believes in actively providing the best in innovative and holistic treatment opportunities, to help transform lives. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, we want to help. Please call toll-free now.

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