Major fentanyl seizure in KLIA puts authorities on high alert

21 Dec 2023 04:33pm
On Monday, the media reported that the Royal Malaysian Customs Department (JKDM) seized 807.9 kilogrammes of fentanyl drugs estimated to be worth RM44.4 million. - FILE PIX
On Monday, the media reported that the Royal Malaysian Customs Department (JKDM) seized 807.9 kilogrammes of fentanyl drugs estimated to be worth RM44.4 million. - FILE PIX

SHAH ALAM - Authorities issue a warning about a drug, fentanyl, that is reported to be 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin and morphine, with users exhibiting zombie-like behavior.

This alarming development comes on the heels of a record seizure of 807.9 kilogrammes of fentanyl at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

The opioid crisis has escalated due to the influx of more illicit drugs into the market.

In 2021, drug overdose deaths reached a record high, with over 100,000 individuals lost to the ongoing crisis fueled by the powerful synthetic drug fentanyl.

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fentanyl is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.

Illicit variants of fentanyl are primarily manufactured by Mexican drug gangs.

Legitimate medical uses of fentanyl

While fentanyl has legitimate medical uses, such as providing relief for cancer patients experiencing severe pain or offering immediate pain relief for injuries like a broken arm, it poses significant risks when misused or abused.

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What does fentanyl look like?

Fentanyl is typically available in two main forms: powder and liquid.

The powdered form can be made to resemble other drugs, often pressed into pills that mimic prescription medications like Percocet or Xanax.

Illegally made liquid fentanyl can be used as a replacement for heroin and may be packaged in various forms, including nasal sprays, eye drops, or dropped onto paper or small candies.

When fentanyl becomes dangerous?

Fentanyl becomes highly dangerous when illegally manufactured in clandestine labs.

The synthetic fentanyl used in recent overdose deaths is associated with illegal manufacturing.

Like other opioids, fentanyl causes drowsiness and sedation.

Overdosing on fentanyl can lead to unconsciousness and respiratory failure, potentially resulting in death within minutes.

The potency of fentanyl poses a significant risk, and its inclusion in other illicit substances, such as heroin, benzodiazepines, cocaine, MDMA (ecstasy or molly), and methamphetamines, contributes to its danger.

Some drug dealers mix fentanyl with other substances to increase profits, leading individuals to unknowingly consume this potent opioid.

Fentanyl can also be made into pill form, and it can be mixed in with other counterfeit pills.

Some people may think they are taking a less potent opioid such as oxycodone, but they are actually getting fentanyl.

Zombie drug: A new challenge in Malaysia

The Malaysian Substance Abuse Council (Masac) secretary-general, Raja Azizan Suhaimi Raja Abd Latif, voiced concern over the emergence of a "zombie drug" in the battle against drug addiction.

Azizan said this is because fentanyl, when mixed with other drugs such as xylazine, can have horrifying and devastating effects.

"If these drugs get out and spread among addicts, it will become a big threat to the nation as addicts can literally turn into 'zombies'," Azizan added.

Users may develop severe wounds, including necrosis (rotting of flesh), potentially leading to amputation.

"Addicts will continue to faithfully use and abuse something that can make them high.

"The brain is damaged, and they don't think—all they want is to achieve the next high, and they don't think about the consequences.

"As a result, many will become zombies in Malaysia," he told Sinar recently.

He also highlighted the challenge of synthetic drugs, referring to new psychoactive substances with over 800 types that have not yet been classified as drugs, making detection difficult.

Azizan urged collaboration among all stakeholders to address the issue, stressing the need for a collective effort rather than placing sole responsibility on one agency or ministry.

"My concern is we lack the numbers to cover entry points through our waters and other areas that can become entry points.

"People are willing to do anything because they can earn big profits," he said.

Fentanyl seized in Malaysia

Recently, the Royal Malaysian Customs Department (JKDM) seized 807.9 kilogrammes of fentanyl drugs valued at RM44.4 million.

The drugs were declared as a fragrance compound at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) Air Cargo Complex.

The international drug syndicate used this method to deceive authorities.

JKDM's Deputy Director-General (Enforcement and Compliance), Datuk Sazali Mohamad, explained that this was the first time the department had seized fentanyl.

"Following a tip-off, a team seized 26 boxes containing 72 aluminum bottles containing the dangerous drug at KLIA," he said.

"Preliminary investigations found that the goods were sent from Mumbai International Airport, India and transited at the KLIA Cargo Complex, then sent to Dubai, United Arab Emirates by air," he said at a press conference at the Narcotics Branch of the JKDM Headquarters in Kampung Jijan on Monday.

Although the drug was not intended for the Malaysian market, its presence raises concerns due to its potential dangers, as seen in other countries where users exhibit zombie-like behavior.

Sazali highlighted the success of preventing misuse by approximately four million addicts based on the weight of the seized drug.

From January to November of the current year, JKDM busted 398 drug-related cases, involving substances like heroin, ketamine, cannabis, and methamphetamine, valued at RM294.37 million.

No detected fentanyl abuse yet

The Bukit Aman Narcotics Criminal Investigation Department (JSJN) reported that they have not detected the use of fentanyl among addicts in Malaysia.

Its director, Datuk Seri Mohd Kamaruddin Md Din said, so far there has been no seizure involving the drug.

"Based on the operation and confiscation carried out, JSJN has not yet detected addicts who use this type of fentanyl drug.

"However, JSJN will continue to work to combat the symptoms of drug abuse and trafficking even though the threat of drugs is becoming more complex day by day," he told Sinar.

Strict actions and punishments are in place for drug-related offences in the country, including hefty penalties and property confiscation.

Kamaruddin assured that enforcement operations are ongoing to eradicate drug abuse activities, with a commitment to continuous arrests through operations like Ops Tapis.

Collaboration with other enforcement agencies in Malaysia and international counterparts aims to eliminate cross-border drug smuggling activities.

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