By Susie Steimle

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -– Researchers at the University of California in San Francisco want to change the way we think of Fentanyl.

In a paper published in the journal Addiction, they called it a “contaminant, and a poison in the heroin stream.”

“Fentanyl is a tsunami wave that does not seem to break. It keeps growing year after year, it is the worst drug crisis America has ever faced,” said Dr. Daniel Ciccarone, one of the lead authors of the UCSF study.

Ciccarone has been studying heroin use for 18 years and he recently received a grant to study the way opioid use is changing. Right now, Fentanyl is his focus.

“We’re in a 20-year, what I call triple-wave epidemic starting with opioid pills being over-prescribed by doctors. That morphed into the heroin wave which then moved to a Fentanyl wave, each building on the one before”

Some 29,000 people died from Fentanyl overdoses in 2018. That’s a 45 percent spike since 2017.

When used properly, Fentanyl is a pain killer used to help people with chronic pain often linked to terminal cancer. It’s 100 times stronger than morphine.

On the street it’s cheap to recreate and is often distributed in deadly doses. Usually drug users don’t know they’re getting product laced with Fentanyl. It’s found in Xanax, heroin, methamphetamines, and cocaine.

“If you think about most drugs, we think they’re drugs that are recreational,” said Ciccarone. “Most people like them; there’s a culture behind them. This is not true for Fentanyl.”

“Now when kids experiment the consequences of that experimentation are deadly,” said Rich Strickling who lost his 22-year-old son Alex to a Fentanyl overdose last summer.

“When you’re under 25 and your drug of choice is opiates, you don’t have a long life nowadays,” Strickling said.

“It’s a relatively unrecognized and unproblematized issue,” Ciccarone said.

San Francisco’s health department does provide strips that allow drug users to test their product for the drug.

Fentanyl-related deaths have been more prevalent on the East Coast and in the Midwest, but nearly 400 Californians overdosed from Fentanyl this year.

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