TAMPA (FOX 13) - When Tampa DEA Special Agent James DiCaprio and his team first encountered Fentanyl, he knew the game had changed. Drug dealers had cooked up a new way to feed a deadly addiction.
"It's 50 times more powerful than Heroin, 100 times more powerful than morphine," agent DiCaprio said.
In fact, it is so powerful an amount about the size of 3 grams of salt can kill most people. And users have been dying -- nine so far this year in the Bay Area.
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic painkiller used to treat terminally ill cancer patients. But what hits the streets is anything but compassionate. A recovering addict -- we'll call her Cynthia to protect her identity -- knows the dangers of Fentanyl all too well.
"People die all the time," she told us. "I personally have had to bring back a few people, give them CPR until the paramedics came.”
Dr. Deeni Bassam, a pain management specialist, explained the powerful hold opioids can have.
"The first time someone uses an opiate drug, the euphoria that they get is something that they continue to search for and seek," Bassam said. Some addicts call it "chasing the dragon."
But how did Fentanyl escape the lab and land in the bloodstreams of drug abusers? The DEA claims fentanyl is being manufactured in China and Mexico, then smuggled over the border for distribution. Or it's bought legally online, though it's a crime when delivered by U.S. mail.
And once mixed with piggyback drugs like Xanax or Oxycodone? "They're putting out a product that is so powerful that it could kill you," Agent DiCaprio added.