One of the biggest, and most silent, killers of today is fentanyl, a highly potent, addictive, synthetic chemical that is being found in street drugs and counterfeit pills in staggering amounts. Only a tiny amount of fentanyl must be consumed in order to prove fatal, which has taken the nation and Suffolk County by storm.

Assistant District Attorney Nicole Felice held a free public seminar discussing the dangers of fentanyl and a relatively new drug, xylazine, at the Success Community Care Clinic in Oakdale.

Xylazine, commonly known as “tranq,” is a sedative typically reserved for cattle and other large animals. It can be used to calm animals for surgical procedures, as a local anesthetic, or pain reliever. Some people report mixing xylazine with fentanyl to prolong and enhance the euphoric high from fentanyl.

Xylazine is also known as a “zombie drug,” for its flesh-rotting effects on users.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reported that in 2022, nearly a quarter of all fentanyl seizures contained xylazine.

Xylazine is not a controlled substance in the U.S.

Assistant D.A. Felice has been with the Suffolk County D.A.’s office since 2010 and she has worked in narcotics specifically since 2015.

“With respect to fentanyl, we have been handling these cases since about 2017, when fentanyl really became predominant,” said Felice. “Before that, it was mostly our regular old cocaine cases and heroin.”

Felice handles many overdose death cases and has worked in that concentration since 2018. Felice is also a Special U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. She follows many of those overdose cases to the federal level.

“Fentanyl is not something new to you, and I’m guessing that a lot of you have known people or heard of people who have overdosed because of fentanyl use, right? It’s very sad, unfortunately, but true,” said Felice. “We have seen such a large uptick in overdose deaths recently that we have started to focus our attention, in conjunction with the Suffolk County Police Department, on handling those cases. We, right now, are really trying to get manpower together to focus on them because this is becoming such a large issue. Xylazine has really been responsible most recently for a very large amount of these deaths.”

Felice then played a 911 call of a parent who found his daughter dead from an overdose. His frantic panicking was cut short when a neighbor, who was medically trained, told him that it was “too late” to perform CPR.

“By the time that people are found, most of the time they are already dead,” said Felice. “The reason is, especially when fentanyl is mixed with xylazine, that the overdose can happen so quickly that it doesn’t give any time for EMTs to remedy it. One thing that we have seen is because xylazine, unlike fentanyl, is not an opioid. It does not react the same way to Narcan.”

Narcan can help reverse the often fatal effects of fentanyl.

Felice said that inmates in the Suffolk County Jail can be given Narcan several times only for there to be no reaction. This is due to fentanyl being cut with xylazine.

“This is leading to deaths; Narcan was saving people,” said Felice. “We have people that overdose ten times in a year and were brought back. But now, if you end up with a sample that’s got fentanyl and xylazine, you’re not going to come back from that. So it’s very unfortunate, and it’s happening every day.”

Felice also said that the close proximity to New York City “contributes to an abundance” of the drug supply in Suffolk County. Felice also said that packages and parcels are also being used to ship drugs between Suffolk and NYC, allowing drugs to be purchased on the dark web through a source who has a connection in another country.

“Sometimes they’re coming through the mail as fully mixed fentanyl already, and sometimes they’re coming as the components of fentanyl, and then are being mixed here, either in the city or in the county. But they’re coming from everywhere, and it’s a very lucrative business,” said Felice.

Felice said that the profits are so large that traffickers often “don’t care” that law enforcement has intercepted their shipments.
“We are prosecuting people for the possession and sale of drugs. We are also helping to investigate the parcel cases where it’s coming through the mail and we prosecute people for that,” said Felice. “We work with our federal partners, the DEA, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and with the Eastern District to try to stop that interstate, inter-county, intercontinental commerce of those substances.”

Felice then showed slides of various illicit drugs and how to identify them, including crack cocaine, powdered cocaine, and heroin.
“When fentanyl first started coming onto the scene, it was mostly mixed with heroin, and one of the questions I would ask people is if they could spot the difference between fentanyl and heroin,” said Felice. “They look exactly the same.”

Felice said that most heroin users would inject the drug intravenously through a syringe, but the easy and quick high from fentanyl-based pills form has allowed heroin to take a “back seat” to fentanyl.

Felice also said that fentanyl-based cocaine is leading to frequent overdoses, as a regular user would not be able to tolerate a comparable amount of fentanyl.

“If one of the batches that they get has fentanyl in it, that’s going to lead to an immediate overdose. They’re not used to it, it’s not the same type of substance as cocaine, and the reaction to the body is going to be very severe and immediate,” said Felice.

Felice said that while fentanyl-laced marijuana, edibles, and vape pens are prevalent, they’re not of high concern in the eyes of the Suffolk County D.A.’s office.

Instead, Felice says prescription pills are of much higher concern, as fentanyl can be used to make nearly identical-looking pills for a fraction of the manufacturing cost. Felice also says that because of crackdowns on prescriptions and recent public perceptions of certain prescriptions has created a new market for counterfeit pills.

“Everything about it is going to look like a legitimate pill, but when you test the pills, they’re not going to contain Oxycodone or any of the components of a legitimate pill,” said Felice. “Nine out of ten times, I would venture to say nowadays it’s probably ten out of ten, the fake pills contain only fentanyl, or fentanyl and other dangerous substances like xylazine.”

Felice says that young people nowadays run a much more severe risk of experimenting with recreational drugs as is typical for the age group. Adderall and Xanax are two targets for counterfeit pills.

“The vast majority of the overdose cases I handle are people between the ages of 20 and 24,” said Felice. “For a little while, 26 was my number. But these are people’s kids who they thought they were going to get to see them for their whole life and have this great future, and it’s cut short. Sometimes, it’s just a tiny portion of a pill.”

Felice described a recent case of a twenty-three-year-old girl who purchased a fake Oxycodone pill. In order to receive the high faster, she broke off a piece of the pill, crushed it, and snorted it. She was found dead still in the driver’s seat of her car in her driveway by a neighbor the next morning.

Felice presented a difficult issue perpetrated by a complex network of motives, including greed, profit, and carelessness. She discussed her education outreach programs in high schools, asking kids if they would eat from a dirty restaurant if they did not know what was in their food. Likewise, pills should always be refused in that regard, because it’s even more likely that they are toxic and can almost immediately end a life too soon.

Success Community Care Clinic is located 405 Locust Avenue in Oakdale.

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Matt Meduri serves as the Editor in Chief of the Messenger Papers and writer of America the Beautiful and This Week Today columns. As a graduate of St. Joseph's University, Matt has been working in the political journalism field for over 5 years. He is a multi-instrumentalist, enjoys cooking and writing his own recipes, and traveling throughout the United States including Guam.