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Gov. Wolf makes synthetic fentanyl illegal to help cops fight opioid epidemic |

Gov. Wolf makes synthetic fentanyl illegal to help cops fight opioid epidemic

In this Aug. 9, 2016, file photo, a bag of 4-fluoro isobutyryl fentanyl, which was seized in a drug raid, is displayed at the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Testing and Research Laboratory in Sterling, Va.
Courtesy DEA
Illegal powdered fentanyl confiscated by the DEA.
Courtesy of the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration
This DEA photo shows about 2 milligrams of fentanyl, which is a potentially lethal dose of the prescription painkiller, especially when mixed with other drugs.
Abuse of crack cocaine, such as this, and powdered cocaine is on the rise in Western Pennsylvania, authorities say.

All new forms of synthetic fentanyl, which can be created with a tweak of the molecular structure, are now classified as highly addictive drugs.

The man-made substances sold on the streets are listed by the state Department of Health as a Schedule I drug after Gov. Tom Wolf this week made the change, which lasts one year.

Police and prosecutors use the department’s schedule of drugs when making arrests and in sentencing.

“Synthetic-fentanyl derivatives are being used to cut heroin, often resulting in death,” said Nate Wardle, health department press secretary. “These drugs are being created synthetically in other countries and brought to the United States, and are putting the lives of Pennsylvanians and our first responders at risk.”

Schedule I drugs are those that have the highest risk for addiction and the least legitimate medical use, said Westmoreland County Assistant District Attorney Pete Flanigan. Heroin also is a Schedule I drug.

Substances fall under several categories, ending with Schedule V, which are less addictive and have pharmacological uses, Flanigan said. In its pharmaceutical form as a painkiller and anesthetic, fentanyl is a Schedule II substance.

By changing the molecular structure even slightly, a new form of fentanyl can be illicitly created in laboratories.

In Westmoreland County, authorities saw a few different types of fentanyl in 2017 drug overdose deaths, including acetyl fentanyl and para-flurobutyryl fentanyl. In Allegheny County last year, authorities saw deaths where people had furanyl fentanyl in their systems, according to data.

“It kind of gives law enforcement a wider berth,” said Ryan Tarkowski, Pennsylvania State Police spokesman.

The broadening of the definition of types of illegal substances can be helpful and would prevent a defense attorney from arguing that the drug technically is not illegal, Flanigan said. He has had to drop past cases involving synthetic cannabinoids after running into a similar problem.

County Detective Tony Marcocci said the new scheduling doesn’t change much for police, but it could at the time of sentencing.

“It helps us, but not all that much,” he said. “So many of these things come back as fentanyl or a fentanyl analog, but we don’t even know what the hell it is.”

Forensic scientists at the state police crime lab in Hempfield have seen new forms of fentanyl, including 3-methylfentanyl.The rescheduling does not impact legitimately prescribed fentanyl.Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-837-5374, or via Twitter @byrenatta.

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