One of the most concerning developments in the ongoing opioid crisis in America is the rise of fentanyl abuse. The most recent research has shown that on average, 175 people succumb daily to fentanyl overdose, with the overwhelming majority falling into the 18 to 45 age demographic. In fact, in the space of two years, it has become the leading cause of death in that age group, surpassing cancer, car accidents, suicide, and Covid-19.
Fentanyl has emerged as the chief drug killer in the US for a number of reasons. Firstly, and most simply, it is extremely potent. It is 80 to a hundred times stronger than morphine and 50 times as powerful as heroin. Fentanyl can be fatal even in the tiniest of doses.
Developed for the most serious chronic pain and meant for use in the most serious conditions, such as post-operative patients and people suffering from cancer, it has been hijacked for illicit use. It is much easier to obtain than heroin and considerably cheaper. This has led to an explosion of clandestine labs dotting the country, and the increasing diversion of legally produced Fentanyl to drug suppliers.
It is getting to the streets. And it is killing people.
Its affordability and accessibility have led to another frightening issue. Fentanyl is odorless and hard to identify. Dealers have found a way to increase profits by lacing fentanyl into other drugs. People who think they are snorting cocaine, injecting heroin, or even using Adderall, are in reality, ingesting fentanyl. This leads to people who have not developed any tolerance for this specific drug to unwittingly consume it. Almost always, this leads to overdose and death.
Experts in the field have begun sounding the alarms. The DEA, in a letter dated April 6, warned of the increase of mass fentanyl overdose events (which is 3 or more overdoses happening simultaneously) and begged for increased awareness of the new reality and increased danger of fentanyl as the leading drug killer America. The letter describes points to seven recent such events and points to the dealer practice as a chief culprit. It mentions the common scenarios of fake prescription pills, posing as Percocet, Vicodin, and Oxycontin, containing lethal amounts of fentanyl.
In short, Fentanyl addiction and abuse is driving the opioid epidemic. It must be addressed. And quickly.
Last week saw a bipartisan resolution emerging from Congress, announcing May 10th as National Fentanyl Awareness Day. Sponsored by Senators Feinstein and Grassley in the Senate, and Reps. Trone and Upton in the House, it aims to bring this issue to the forefront of the national conversation. The resolution recognizes, in its own words:
“ Resolved, That the Senate—
(1) supports the recognition and goals of National Fentanyl Awareness Day, which include increasing individual and public awareness of the impact of fake or counterfeit fentanyl pills on families and young people;
(2) applauds the work of Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies that work to combat the proliferation of counterfeit pills;
(3) encourages the use of existing authorities to proactively stop and prevent the spread of illicit counterfeit pills; and
(4) designates May 10, 2022 as “National Fentanyl Awareness Day”.
(See here for the full text.)
It is an important step in the country’s discourse, but only a first one. Our greatest minds and leading experts in the field must come together to find effective ways of combating this growing plague. There are avenues that need to be explored, collaborations that need to be pursued, and initiatives that need to be implemented.
Every person can help as well. Just contributing to raised awareness, pushing community leaders and politicians to address it at the local levels, and identifying where each person can make a difference to the people in their own orbit, can really save lives.
So, today, share what is going on with the people you love.
Let’s join the fight. Let’s make a difference.
Let’s make National Fentanyl Awareness Day count!
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