Researchers Hoping to Better Understand Fentanyl’s Impact

Researchers at the NIH want to better understand how fentanyl impacts brain function, but recently, access to fentanyl has been blocked by DEA restrictions.

As reported by Fortune, overdoses from synthetic opioids called fentanyl have surged more than 500 percent since 2013, killing roughly 20,000 people in the U.S. in 2016 and outpacing deaths from heroin. Worryingly, people who overdose on such designer drugs, known collectively as China White, have been said to be less responsive to antidotes now widely carried by first responders.

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health want to understand why current dosages of the antidotes are failing in some cases, yet the nationwide law-enforcement crackdown on opioid abuse means they’re having a hard time getting permission to get samples of the illegal products they need to study. It’s unclear how long NIH will have to wait for the Drug Enforcement Administration to sign off.

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“A study that I would have been able to start two months ago is now on hold,” Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in an interview. “We are a lab in the middle of NIH, we will do everything very, very properly. There’s nothing like being in the middle of it to realize how hard these complications are.”

The clash is the latest instance of competing policy aims and political prerogatives leading to a stalemate on studying a pressing public-health issue. Like with fentanyl, marijuana studies have been stymied by enforcement rules. And until recently deaths linked to gun violence had been a taboo for two decades. It took the outrage following the latest mass shooting in a Parkland, Florida school to force lawmakers to clarify that certain research is allowed.

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To learn more about how politics and policy have been slowing research into fentanyl, please visit Fortune.com.

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