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[caption id="attachment_20120" align="alignleft" width="300"]Illustration by Tom Chalkley Illustration by Tom Chalkley[/caption] The Medical Examiner's office last Thursday released some alarming information, saying 37 Marylanders had been killed since September by overdoses of fentanyl, a synthetic opiate that has long been used as a heroin substitute. The Sun's Andrea K. Walker reported that, according to the ME's statistics, 12 percent of the state's 318 overdose deaths since that time were attributable to fentanyl, and there were more elsewhere:

The untimely death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was reportedly found on Sunday with a needle still stuck in his arm, suggests that

in the coming days and weeks. First synthesized in the early 1970s and marketed as an anesthetic, fentanyl is 80 to 100 times stronger than heroin, and just as addictive. It also tends to suppress respiratory function a bit more, doesn't give quite as much euphoria, and doesn't last as long. But with opium

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, why would anyone bother with it? Perhaps because with heroin, you're dealing with a supply-chain that reaches around the world. You are depending on heavily-armed drug cartels, Taliban characters, and twitchy mules swallowing balloons—all

than usual. Fentanyl is comparatively easy to make at home with materials you can acquire legally, according to several easily-Googlable web sites. Perhaps coincidentally, the

. Fentanyl also doesn't ring the bell on drug tests. Fentanyl problems are not a new thing though. Here's Jack Shafer in an

Shafer's story predicted an explosion of designer drugs and overdoses from same, given that huge number of fentanyl analogues and that a few hundred dollars of raw material could yield millions of dollars worth. That didn't really happen. But some of the by-products were causing Parkinsons-like symptoms in some users. The first one was in Maryland.

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