Fentanyl is helping to fuel the heroin epidemic in the United States but it's also posing a global threat.
On Thursday in Vienna, the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs voted to control two chemicals used to make fentanyl. The U.S. Department of State said the vote exemplifies an effective international response to a drug crisis that is claiming thousands of Americans each year.
In Maryland, there were 918 heroin-related deaths in the first nine months of 2016.
Earlier this month, Governor Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency in response to the heroin epidemic.
"There are now estimated to be 27 million heroin users across the country. Heroin and opioid-related deaths have doubled in the last year in our state,” Hogan said.
And in the last year, fentanyl-related deaths have nearly quadrupled. According to the Maryland Department of Mental Health and Hygiene, there were 192 fentanyl-related deaths between January and September of 2015. In 2016, during that same time frame, there were 738 deaths.
“The reality is that this threat has rapidly escalated with the introduction of fentanyl,” said Hogan.
That reality is also being recognized by world leaders.
“As goes the United States, so goes the world. So when people are starting to die of fentanyl and opioid related deaths, it's just a matter of time that these other countries are going to see that also,” said Special Agent Todd Edwards with the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The nearly 200 countries that make up the U.N. are taking action by establishing controls over two chemicals used to make fentanyl and a fentanyl-like substance.
“What they're going to do is be able to regulate and monitor who makes these drugs and where they're being shipped to,” said Edwards.
Adding them to an international list of controlled substances means there will be closer monitoring of any suspicious orders or illegal activity.
Restrictions on ANPP, NPP, and butyrfentanyl already exist in the United States.
“They have to go through the DEA to show how much they are making, where they're shipping it to, who they're delivering it to and so there's an auditing process and there would be the same thing,” Edwards said.
The hope is that more restrictions abroad will help cut down on the shipments of fentanyl and fentanyl-precursors entering the country and Maryland.
“Someone can go online and order fentanyl from China using their address and using a credit card or money order and purchase it from China and it's shipped here via UPS or DHL or the U.S. Postal Service. There's so many millions of packages in the air at any given moment it's virtually impossible for us to track every one,” said Edwards.
Another wrinkle is that fentanyl isn't easily detected.
“It's very hard to detect. You can't smell it, you can't taste it, and drug dogs can't detect it either,” Edwards said.
Earlier this month, China also scheduled controls against four fentanyl-class substances. The announcement was the culmination of ongoing collaboration between the DEA and Government of China.