Fentanyl Shortage Declared by FDA as Illicit Sales Soar

Current FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb

The FDA has declared a shortage of fentanyl citrate. However, even as the fentanyl shortage declared by the FDA affects those who legitimately acquire and administer the drug, black market sales of illegally manufactured fentanyl continue to soar.

Fentanyl citrate, an injectable substance that is marketed using brand name Actiq, is used as a painkiller for certain surgical procedures, including some endoscopic and outpatient surgeries, as well as to treat the intense pain associated with some types of cancer. According to the FDA report, there are three major pharmaceutical providers that are short on fentanyl: West-Ward, Pfizer, and Akron. As a result, backorders for fentanyl citrate are not likely to be filled until 2018.

The shortage via official channels stands in stark contrast to the availability of fentanyl on the black market. In 2016, it is estimated that illicitly obtained fentanyl was involved in a third of the deaths from opioid overdose.

According to this month’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, produced by the CDC, 5,152 Americans died of opioid overdose across ten states from July to December 2016. Of these opioid overdose deaths, more than 56% involved fentanyl, and the majority of those indicated that fentanyl was considered to be the primary factor in the death.

Some have named China as the point of origin for the fentanyl that is flooding black markets in North America, but China’s National Narcotics Control Commission deputy secretary-general denied that evidence existed to support the claim.

While former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who holds the record for the briefest duration in that position, congratulated China for cracking down on the production of synthetic opioids in August, it remains to be seen how his replacement will approach the issues created by fentanyl.

However, with individuals struggling with substance abuse and in dire need of addiction recovery treatment, the continued availability of knockoff fentanyl on the streets will continue to be a problem.