Myanmar Authorities Just Seized Large Quantities of Fentanyl, Indicating Growing Demand for the Drug in Southeast Asia


May 20, 2020


Image Credit: Reuters

The Myanmar police seized unprecedented, record-breaking quantities of liquid fentanyl during raids in the jungle-covered hills of Shan State in Myanmar, which falls within the Golden Triangle region that is believed to be a global hub of drug-trafficking and production.

What is fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid similar to morphine — but about 50 to 100 times more potent. It works by binding to the human body’s opioid receptors, which are found in areas of the brain that control pain and emotions — enabling it to induce both pain-relief and feelings of extreme happiness.

What is fentanyl medically used for?

Fentanyl is often prescribed as pain medicine, either to manage pain after surgery, or for patients with chronic, severe pain. Doctors often use it for open heart surgeries and end-of-life care. Sometimes, it is administered along with other medicines as an anesthetic.

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Is fentanyl addictive?

Experts believe that using larger-than-prescribed doses of fentanyl, or using it more often or for a longer period than prescribed, could easily lead to an addiction. Once the brain adapts to an opioid as strong as strong as fentanyl, its sensitivity diminishes, making it hard to feel pleasure from anything besides the drug, leading to cravings.

Why is fentanyl harmful?

While fentanyl is harmful by itself, it is also illegally produced and often mixed with substances like heroin and cocaine — which makes for a deadly combination. Given how addictive the drug already is, what makes is even more dangerous is that it is cheap, easily available and very potent. In fact, illegal fentanyl has led to a sharp surge in rates of death by opioid overdose.

Only this month, three different people in Canada overdosed on fentanyl within the span of a single day. Fentanyl overdoses have also been involved in the deaths of multiple celebrities like Mac Miller, Prince, Lexii Alijai, Tom Petty, and earlier this year, 16-year-old The Flash actor, Logan Williams.

Fentanyl has wreaked tremendous havoc in the US already; it killed 32,000 people in 2018. Now, with this discovery closer to home in Myanmar, the UN is worried that its use will spike in Southeast Asia as well. “We have been expecting something for a while but not anything of this scale. This is a huge business, and we’re pretty sure it’s going to get even bigger,” Jeremy Douglas, regional representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, told The New York Times.


Written By Devrupa Rakshit

Devrupa Rakshit is an Associate Editor at The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, a painter by shaukh, and autistic by birth. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.


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