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Facing Fentanyl

November 29, 2023

By: Emily DeWalt, Prevention Specialist


Fentanyl is a highly addictive opioid. It is considered to be 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine- just 2mg of fentanyl is enough to kill an average sized man. Since 2013, the United States has seen a dramatic increase in opioid-related overdose deaths, which is largely due to the use of fentanyl. Now, ten years later, we are still combating this public health crisis.


 

 Although this drug is very dangerous when used incorrectly, fentanyl has been used as a medical anesthetic and for treating pain for decades. In the 1950s, fentanyl was only available intravenously, but we see many forms of this prescribed drug today. According to the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), there are many fentanyl medications that can be taken orally including lozenges (Actiq®), buccal tablets (Fentora®), sublingual tablets (Abstral®), and sublingual sprays (Subsys®). In addition to these methods, fentanyl can also be administered via nasal spray (Lazanda®), transdermal patches (Duragesic®), and by injection.

 

It is possible for a patient to use their prescribed fentanyl incorrectly and overdose, but this is not what’s driving the opioid epidemic. The DEA has found that the number of positive drug tests for fentanyl conducted by law enforcement do not match the pharmaceutical prescription rates. This suggests that illegally made fentanyl is the cause of overdose deaths, and not fentanyl used for medical purposes.

 

 To trace illegally made fentanyl back to its source, fentanyl began as raw chemicals (known as precursors) in China-based chemical companies. These manufacturers ship precursors for both fentanyl and methamphetamine, as well as synthetic opioids and opioid additives around the world. Drug cartels and traffickers from Mexico have combined these chemicals for distribution to the United States, sometimes with fentanyl in its “pure form” and other times hidden inside counterfeit pills.

 

Many people have overdosed on fentanyl in combination with other drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, because their supply was contaminated with fentanyl without their knowledge. Fake pills containing fentanyl have also lead to overdose deaths with many believing that they were taking less potent opioids, such as oxycodone. The drug cartels traffic fentanyl in this way in an effort to get people addicted to this highly potent drug. When these drugs are being manufactured, fentanyl doses are added inconsistently, which explains why some people can repeatedly use the drug while others overdose and die after just one pill.

 


Despite the dangers of using fentanyl, addiction causes some people to continue to use potentially contaminated drugs even with the risk. If you know someone that is struggling with substance use, there are many recovery programs available that provide treatment to combat addiction. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA) offers a great place to start with the help line: 1-800-662-4357. This national helpline provides confidential free help from public health agencies to find substance use treatment and information.

 

Thank you for your support! We really enjoy bringing awareness and education on topics so crucial to the community’s health and wellness. We appreciate you for taking the time to read our blogs!

 


Sources

1.       Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2023). Opioid Overdose: Prescription Opioids. Last viewed November 22, 2023. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/deaths/opioid-overdose.html

2.       Drug Enforcement Administration, Department of Justice (2020). Drug Fact Sheet: Fentanyl. Last viewed November 22, 2023. Available at: https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Fentanyl-2020_0.pdf

3.       Office of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of Justice (2023). Justice Department Announces Eight Indictments Against China-Based Chemical Manufacturing Companies and Employees. Last viewed November 22, 2023. Available at:  https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-announces-eight-indictments-against-china-based-chemical-manufacturing

 

Images

1.       The Dallas Morning News (2023). Lethal Dose of Fentanyl. . Last viewed November 22, 2023. Available at:  https://www.dallasnews.com/news/2023/09/03/visualizing-fentanyls-swift-dangerous-effects-on-the-brain-and-body/

2.       The New Republic (2023). Police Are Repeating the Drug War’s Dark History in the Fentanyl Era. Last viewed November 22, 2023. Available at: https://newrepublic.com/article/167764/fentanyl-war-on-drugs-propaganda

3.       Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2023). Organization Logo. Last viewed November 22, 2023. Available at: https://www.samhsa.gov/

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