Episode 15, available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and YouTube


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“I have never taken fentanyl, but I've taken other opioids and people describe it as kind of like floating on a cloud and it just sort of takes away all your concerns at the moment. It's a narcotic; it puts you into a sort of stupor.”

The opioid crisis has been taking lives from all walks of life, all across America. In this episode of Keep Talking, Dan speaks with Ben Westhoff, who has been intimately involved in the study of an incredibly powerful opioid: fentanyl. They discuss the history, prevalence and chemistry behind the drug, as well as how it's used legally in a clinical setting. They also discuss its fatal potential and share their views on its danger to society.

Ben also breaks down his experience investigating the drug, highlighting how we might limit its usage and prevent deaths. He discusses what people experience on fentanyl, and what citizens can do to identify the drug.

About Ben Westhoff (quote from benwesthoff.com):

"Ben Westhoff is an award-winning investigative journalist who writes about culture, drugs, and poverty. His new book Fentanyl, Inc.: How Rogue Chemists Are Creating the Deadliest Wave of the Opioid Epidemic is the bombshell first book about fentanyl, which is causing the worst drug crisis in American history. Westhoff was interviewed about the book for Fresh Air and Joe Rogan and published an excerpt in The Atlantic. Since the book’s publication, Westhoff has advised top government officials on the fentanyl crisis, including from the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, the U.S. embassy in Beijing, and the U.S. State Department."

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Time Stamps:

(00:00) Intro
(04:41) Ben shares what got him interested in studying fentanyl
(06:59) The role of China in the distribution of fentanyl in American society
(11:50) Is it technically correct to say that although fentanyl export is illegal, its ingredients can be exported?
(12:40) Where are we currently in terms of the death rates or the effects of fentanyl in society? Is it as bad as it ever was?
(14:19) How are people affected by the drug?
(17:29) What percentage of street drugs, including cocaine or heroin, has fentanyl laced within it?
(18:39) How would you advise people to mitigate some of the risks of fentanyl
(20:50) Do we know if fentanyl-laced drugs are more common in certain regions of the country?
(24:09) What are your thoughts on India potentially taking over as a potential leader in the production of fentanyl?
(25:54) What prompted Ben to do firsthand research on fentanyl?
(30:06) Why did Ben decide to put himself at risk for the sake of his research?
(31:54) Ben talks about his book, "Fentanyl Inc."
(34:47) Ben shares the possible ways to improve the situation
(37:07) Ben discusses if there is any city, state, or country, that is dealing with the use of the drug in the most rational way
(38:59) Has Ben changed his mind on anything after publishing his book?
(41:21) The legal ways in which fentanyl is used in the medical context
(43:49) What do people taking substances like fentanyl experience?
(45:38) What are the substances that people in our culture should be looking out for as a potential risk for having fentanyl in it?
(48:09) Ben shares his interests and next steps


“People have been abusing pills for a long time. And [fentanyl is] only now starting to get into the pill supply, and it's only probably going to get worse.”

“If you plan your drug use, you'll be able to use a testing kit to find out if what you have is the real thing.”

“Journalism isn't as hard as people think it is. It's basically...putting in the time and putting in the effort to try to uncover stuff that hasn't been reported on before.”

“That's another big part of journalism is sort of listening to your own instincts. And when you think something doesn't sound right, kind of pushing a little further...to get to the bottom of it.”

“I'm not a proponent of locking people up for nonviolent drug offenses. And you know, it seems like the country is moving in that direction. But I get asked a lot about legalization and things like that, and I'm certainly in favor of decriminalizing most drugs, if not all of them.”

“I don't think it [fentanyl] is a particularly controversial drug in the medical field. It was originally developed as kind of a replacement for morphine, in that it came on faster and caused less nausea.”

“I have never taken fentanyl, but I've taken other opioids and people describe it as kind of like floating on a cloud and it just sort of takes away all your concerns at the moment. It's a narcotic; it puts you into a sort of stupor.”

Relevant Links:

Book mentioned:

People mentioned (quotes from Wikipedia):

  • Bruce Rosen - “Bruce Rosen is an American physicist and radiologist and a leading expert in the area of functional neuroimaging. His research for the past 30 years has focused on the development and application of physiological and functional nuclear magnetic resonance techniques, as well as new approaches to combine functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data with information from other modalities such as positron emission tomography (PET), magnetoencephalography (MEG) and noninvasive optical imaging.”
  • Tom Petty - “Thomas Earl Petty was an American singer, songwriter, musician, record producer, and actor. He was the lead vocalist and guitarist of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, formed in 1976. He previously led the band Mudcrutch and was also a member of the late 1980s supergroup the Traveling Wilburys. He died of an accidental drug overdose on October 2, 2017.”
  • Mac Miller - “Malcolm James McCormick, known professionally as Mac Miller, was an American rapper and record producer from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Miller died from an accidental drug overdose of cocaine, fentanyl, and alcohol at his home, aged 26.”
  • Michael Brown - “A(n) 18-year-old black man shot dead by a 28-year-old white Ferguson police officer in the city of Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis."
  • George Floyd - “George Perry Floyd Jr. was an African-American man who was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during an arrest after a store clerk suspected Floyd may have used a counterfeit $20 bill.”

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