The opioid epidemic keeps getting worse in New Jersey and experts predict overdose deaths could top 3,000 this year.

The principal reason is a synthetic opioid called fentanyl, which is 50 to 100 times more powerful than heroin.

Special Agent Tim McMahon of the Drug Enforcement Administration office in New Jersey said fentanyl is used to treat terminal cancer patients in extreme pain. It is often administered with a skin patch so that it is slowly absorbed into the skin.

The drug is so strong that more than 2 milligrams — about a pinch of it — could be fatal.

Drug dealers, meanwhile, are mixing fentanyl with the heroin they sell because it’s cheap and powerful.

McMahon said one kilogram of heroin typically sells for  $50,000 to $65,000. One kilo of fentanyl costs $3,500 to $5,000.

He pointed out when people buy heroin or other illegal drugs, “they have absolutely no idea what might be mixed in with what it is that they’re taking.”

McMahon said while drug dealers don’t intentionally want to kill their customers, they can easily mix too much fentanyl into the heroin they’re selling and suddenly dozens of buyers will overdose or die.

When this happens, it actually attracts drug users instead of scaring them away.

“Although a number of people overdosed, the lure of the potential high, of being so much greater than what they’re used to, is what would drive them to seek that out," he said.

While heroin antidote Narcan can save lives, it may not be enough for a fentanyl overdose.

He pointed out if authorities can trace where a batch of fentanyl-laced heroin came from in an overdose death case, murder charges may be filed against the dealer.

Most of the fentanyl coming into New Jersey is being imported illegally from China.

"We have an office over in China, so we are working with the Chinese authorities to crack down on the production of Fentanyl in China," McMahon said. Authorities are also working the U.S. Post Office.

“It can be purchased on the internet through the dark web and we’re seeing that it can be shipped straight to somebody’s home," McMahon said.

“We’re trying to stay on top of it in as many ways as we can.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at

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