Illicit fentanyl use has become a major contributing factor to the opioid epidemic in California and across the United States. Thousands of people die each year as the result of opioid overdoses. An increasing percentage of these fatal overdoses involve fentanyl. The expanding use of fentanyl necessitates a better understanding of the distribution network associated with this drug. This includes the need to become familiar with the locations most commonly utilized as so-called fentanyl “warehouses” in this day and age.
At the present time, the most frequently used fentanyl warehouses in California and elsewhere in the United States are:
- Single-family homes
- Apartment units
- Motel rooms
Overview of a Fentanyl Warehouse
A fentanyl warehouse is a location at which large quantities of this drug are stored for distribution either to pill makers, dealers, or users. Oftentimes, fentanyl stored at a warehouse is in pure powder form. As a consequence, the site of a fentanyl warehouse very easily can be contaminated with the drug. It can end up on surfaces, on objects, and in the HVAC system (which results in fentanyl contaminating far more than the specific room or rooms in which it is stored.
Two Stream of Fentanyl Production Impacting California and the United States
There are a pair of different primary conduits of fentanyl production in the United States. Both of these ultimately require a location where a fentanyl dealer can store this drug for ultimate sale to users. Oftentimes, these sites are referred to as “fentanyl warehouses.”
Currently, the most common way in which fentanyl is made available to users in the United States is through illegal sales from Chinese and Mexican pharmaceutical companies. Both of these countries have lax laws when it comes to pharmaceutical sales. Thus, huge amounts of fentanyl illegally are imported into the United States for sale on the street. Bear in mind that this drug is very inexpensive. Oftentimes, it is shipped to the United States in pure powder form, typically using the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx, UPS, and similar delivery services.
A smaller amount of fentanyl is directly produced or manufactured in the United States. The drug is relatively easy to produce and doesn’t have the same level of manufacturing dangers associated with a meth lab (like explosions).
Fentanyl Warehouses and Health Hazards
There are a number of ways in which fentanyl warehouses become significant health hazards:
- Hazard to others who currently occupy the premises
- Hazard to others who access premises after a fentanyl warehouse operation ends
- Hazard to law enforcement
- Hazard to fentanyl decontamination specialists
Hazard to Others Who Currently Occupy the Premises
A sad reality associated with the operation of a fentanyl warehouse is that this type of operation oftentimes is undertaken in the residence of a fentanyl manufacturer, pill maker, or dealer. As a consequence, the family of a fentanyl warehouse operator is exposed to the drug.
In other situations, a fentanyl warehouse is operated at a site like a motel. In many, many instances, motels have common HVAC systems. The net effect of such a setup is that fentanyl residue or powder can be transported from the room that houses a warehouse to other rooms in a motel building.
Hazard To Others Who Access Premises After a Fentanyl Warehouse Operation Ends
The sites that have been used to process or manufacture fentanyl are significantly different than those that are used to cook or make meth. A meth lab usually leaves behind obvious telltale evidence of its existence. This includes leftover chemicals and a great deal of waste.
On the other hand, an operation like a fentanyl distribution network warehouse may leave little to no visible evidence of its existence after a site has been abandoned. The only real remnants may be fentanyl residue. Although that may be the only tangible evidence of a former fentanyl operation, and although it might not be immediately visible, it can be highly dangerous.
This type of situation can be hazardous to others who later access the premises. For example, if someone operated a fentanyl distribution warehouse in an apartment, dangerous fentanyl contamination can have occurred. Ultimately, a person who ran this type of illicit operation in a residential rental unit may move out. A new tenant will then take possession of the property.
The problem is that even a thorough traditional post-rental cleaning of the premises is not designed to decontaminate a rental home with fentanyl residue. As a consequence, new tenants will be exposed to this dangerous substance and the health consequences that attach to such exposure.
Hazard to Law Enforcement
Every year, a number of law enforcement officials end up ill because of exposure to fentanyl at sites that include warehouses. These police officers, sheriff deputies, and others are called to a particular scene to investigate illegal conduct. They may not know initially that an issue at a particular location has been the production or warehousing of fentanyl. As a result, they may not be appropriately geared up with suitable personal protective equipment to protect against exposure to fentanyl contamination.
Hazard to Fentanyl Decontamination Specialists
Finally, fentanyl decontamination specialists must and do take special care to protect against exposure to the drug at a site that had been used to warehouse this illicit dangerous substance. Because of the truly hazardous nature of even very small amounts of fentanyl, and because of the need for specialized equipment and agents to safely and thoroughly decontaminate a site, this type of cleanup effort should only be undertaken by a professional.