In the middle of last decade, less than 10% of the heroin samples submitted to New Jersey drug labs recorded traces of the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl.

In the the third quarter of 2022, the rate was 98%.

Authorities view fentanyl as the most significant drug threat facing America today. Its profitability can't be ignored by cartels and dealers who don't mind killing off customers, authorities say.

"Fentanyl is just creating more of a profit margin for these drug cartels than heroin is," Timothy McMahon, with the New Jersey division of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said during a webinar presented by The Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey.

One kilogram of fentanyl is valued in the millions; the value of one kilogram of heroin is in the thousands, McMahon said.

Nationwide, fentanyl in pills and powder kills 193 people in a day, according to the DEA. Just 2 milligrams, which can barely cover the tip of a pencil, is enough to kill a user.

Prevalence of the drug, which in its legal form is used to treat pain, started to pick up steam in 2015, and the DEA issued a nationwide alert in response.

Recently, the DEA noted that six out of 10 of their fentanyl-laced pill seizures contain deadly amounts of the drug.

According to Capt. Jason Piotrowski, with the New Jersey State Police Office of Drug Monitoring & Analysis, fentanyl was a minor issue in the Garden State as recently as 2015. Today, nearly every heroin lab submission contains the synthetic opioid.

McMahon likened the randomness of the fentanyl threat to making a batch of chocolate chip cookies: you may get five chocolate chips in one cookie, and 10 in the other, whereas drug users may get a tolerable dose of fentanyl in one pill, and a fatal dose in another.

"It's really like a game of Russian roulette," McMahon said.

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at

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