FentanylAcross the United States there has been a rise in overdose deaths caused by heroin laced with fentanyl, a powerful opioid analgesic. In response, The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has issued an alert to all U.S. law enforcement through the multi-agency El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC).

It may seem strange to lace a powerful drug like heroin with another opioid; however, fentanyl is approximately 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine and about 15 to 20 times more potent than heroin. Dealers will use fentanyl to increase the potency of their product when they have heroin that is insufficient in strength. Users who are unaware of the presence of fentanyl may incorrectly measure the appropriate dose which can lead to overdose. Even at low levels, fentanyl is potentially lethal, according to the DEA.

The National Forensic Laboratory Information System, which is responsible for collecting data from police labs, received 3,344 fentanyl submissions last year, up from 942 the previous year, USA Today reports. In 2014, heroin laced with fentanyl, according to officials was suspected in at least 50 fatal overdoses in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Michigan.

“Drug incidents and overdoses related to fentanyl are occurring at an alarming rate throughout the United States and represent a significant threat to public health and safety,” said DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart in a statement.

“Often laced in heroin, fentanyl and fentanyl analogues produced in illicit clandestine labs are up to 100 times more powerful than morphine and 30-50 times more powerful than heroin. Fentanyl is extremely dangerous to law enforcement and anyone else who may come into contact with it. DEA will continue to address this threat by directly attacking the drug trafficking networks producing and importing these deadly drugs. We have lost too many Americans to drug overdoses and we strongly encourage parents, caregivers, teachers, local law enforcement and mentors to firmly and passionately educate others about the dangers of drug abuse, and to seek immediate help and treatment for those addicted to drugs.”