Ben Westhoff

Journalist

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Fentanyl, Inc.: How Rogue Chemists Are Creating the Deadliest Wave of the Opioid Epidemic releases September 3, 2019 in the US (Grove Atlantic), and in October, 2019 in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand (Scribe).

Fentanyl, one of a crop of new drugs called novel psychoactive substances (NPS), now kills more Americans annually than any drug in history, as well as growing numbers in Canada, Europe, the UK, Australia, and beyond. The result of four years of investigation, Fentanyl, Inc. is the compelling story of the drugs’ origins in legitimate laboratories, their hijacking by rogue chemists and rapid spread around the globe, the black markets in which they are sold and consumed, and efforts to crack down on or contain the damage caused by this illicit and often lethal industry.

NPS are synthetic, and intended to mimic the effects of traditional drugs. They are made in laboratories and often sold over the Dark Web using Bitcoin, in anonymous transactions where the drugs are delivered right to the customer’s door. Westhoff traces the drugs back to their source: almost all were developed as pharmaceuticals, before rogue chemists hijacked the chemical formulas and began producing them illicitly. Fentanyl, Inc. includes the stories of scientists such as Paul Janssen, who invented fentanyl as a prescription painkiller, sold his company to Johnson & Johnson, and died a hero, not knowing his drug would become the scourge it is today.

The opioid crisis began in the 1990s with prescription pills like OxyContin. When patients got addicted, they turned to heroin, which has a similar effect. Now, fentanyl has emerged as the newest, deadliest option. It resembles heroin, except it’s made in a lab and is 50 times stronger. Just as fentanyl is replacing heroin, other NPS are replacing traditional drugs like marijuana, cocaine, LSD, and ecstasy. In the process, NPS are upending the drug-enforcement landscape with ever-changing formulas that stay two steps ahead of the law. Westhoff explores this shadowy world at each step of the drug-distribution ladder, culminating with his undercover infiltration of shadowy operations in China, where these new drugs are manufactured, and exposing how the Chinese government is subsidizing this illicit industry.

Fentanyl, Inc. also chronicles addicted users and dealers around the globe, families of victims, law-enforcement officers, and underground harm-reduction organizers — presenting a shocking and riveting full anatomy of a crisis we are just beginning to understand, and the unsung heroes who are emerging to fight it around the globe.

Publicity: John Mark Boling <JMBoling@groveatlantic.com>

Foreign Rights: Amy Hundley <ahundley@groveatlantic.com>