Matthew Reisen, ABQ Journal - How fentanyl took over the streets of Albuquerque

Matthew Reisen, ABQ Journal
How fentanyl took over the streets of Albuquerque


In the world of opioid drug abuse, an important new product in on the market, a test strip that can detect the presence of fentanyl in what may have been sold as something else. Fentanyl has been found in pills shaped and colored to look like everything from the tranquilizer Xanax to the painkiller Oxycodone to Adderall, the treatment for attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder.

Among the opioids, the fentanyls, it comes in several chemical constructs, are the most powerful and the most addictive.  Thus, the idea of the fentanyl strip is to warn possibly unwitting drug consumers of life-threatening danger. The strip tests positive for fentanyl, the message is meant to be — stay away.

But, as we learned only yesterday from Sam Quinones, author of the new book The Least of Us, many addicted people are turning that logic on its head.  They use the test strips, Quinones says, because they are looking for fentanyl; it’s become their drug of choice, danger be damned.

In Albuquerque and across New Mexico, over the past few years, fentanyl has become the drug of criminal motivation for those who knowingly take it and the drug of death for drug-takers who literally never knew what hit them … they thought they were buying Oxycontin, heroin or cocaine.


It’s mostly for those folks that Dr. Brandon Warrick, of the University of New Mexico Hospital, stages his successful uses of Narcan to save victims of opioid overdoses. They “come to” in a brightly lit room surrounded by people shouting “welcome back from the dead.” Like the fentanyl test strip warning, this is meant to scare them straight.

But for many addicts, especially those who test hoping to find fentanyl the reminder —you almost killed yourself — may be less of a deterrent than an attraction.

Back in 2005 when fentanyl-added heroin triggered an epidemic of deadly overdoses in Chicago, two new best-selling brands of heroin hit street markets. The brand names? “Lethal Injection” and “Drop Dead.”  In the summer of 2021, as fentanyl was becoming by far the number one killer narcotic in America, pills containing an alleged mix of heroin and fentanyl again featured two brand names: the familiar and explicit Drop Dead and one better suited to the times, COVID-19.

The NYPD said both brands were selling like hotcakes.

Dr. Brandon Warrick was one of several sources who talked with our guest today, reporter Matthew Reisen of the Albuquerque Journal, helping him put together a powerful three-part series on how fentanyl has hit, hurt and changed the city.



Matthew Reisen is a Breaking News and Crime Reporter of the Albuquerque Journal. He recently published a 3-part series on the surge of methamphetamine sales and related criminal and social problems in Albuquerque.




Subscribe to insider notes from Dave Marash along with previews and cartoons of upcoming podcasts. You’ll be richer, taller, and if you don’t eat, thinner.


Here & There is kept afloat by wonderful sponsors and curious listeners like you. Your support is appreciated!