At a storage facility in Massachusetts, the Drug Enforcement Administration seized 50 kilograms of N-Phenethyl-4-piperidinone aka NPP Law enforcement agencies and synthing forums know NPP as an integral piece of the puzzle when creating fentanyl and several of the analogs. And fittingly, the DEA placed NPP on a controlled precursor in 2007.
The precursor is neither the only route to fentanyl or useful in only fentanyl synthesis. It may, however, be the quickest and simplest option for smaller clandestine laboratories to pump out fentanyl. The press release pointed to a multi-agency investigation behind the discovery. Along with state law enforcement, the DEA worked with the United States Postal Inspection Service.
Officials wrote that the NPP was equal to roughly 19,000,000 (19 million) fentanyl pills. Those, presumably at street price, would be equal to $570,000,000 (570 million). If they guessed that all 50 kilograms would be converted into pills, the average fentanyl pill would sell for $30. In some locations with less access to to the drug, 1mg of oxycodone sells for roughly $1. Fake 30mg oxycodone pills—pressed with fentanyl—circulate the US, giving the DEA a reference point for pricing.
In clandestine labs, the NPP to ANPP conversion is often clean and efficient. However, the other steps used in the most common clandestine synthesis of fentanyl are far less efficient and yields vary. ANPP carries over and persists through many washes. The DEA themselves revealed an internal study that they conducted on seized fentanyl; the study showed that analysts could see ANPP in more than 85 percent of seized fentanyl. So, clearly less than 100 percent of the product would successfully ”become” fentanyl. The difference could be negligible, depending on the chemist’s skill.
And since the USPIS was involved in the seizure, the recipient likely—as seen in many recently busted fentanyl distribution groups—ordered the product from the internet. NPP is legally purchased through online suppliers for DEA authorized lab use. Illegally through the darknet. But Chinese suppliers are an even greater online source and frequently ignore DEA licenses. The distributors from China sell drugs and precursors, in bulk, for next-to-nothing when compared to darknet prices.
The DEA and authorities in China recently worked on banning the creation and exportation of gray-area chemicals. And China banned more than 100 various substances, including carfentanil. Of course, a great majority of bulk “research chemical” suppliers still supply US clearnet and darknet vendors with drugs such as GBL, various cannabinoids, and substituted cathinones.
While darknet marketplaces are far from innocent in the so-called “US opioid crisis,” clearnet vendors are too—even more so for fentanyl. Regardless, US opioid vendors are a high priority target for law enforcement right now. They have taken down some of the bigger vendors and arrested entire members of fentanyl pill pressing groups. And this seizure “represents the DEA’s largest seizure of a fentanyl precursor in the New England Region in recent years.”