Recent statistics have shown that the overdose rates in the United States have risen to an unprecedented high, topping 100,000 for the first time ever in the period between April 2020 and April 2021, representing a 30 percent increase from the year before.
While part of this increase is due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which contributed to overdose deaths by making people more isolated and more despairing, it is also due in alarmingly large part to the proliferation of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid drug that is up to 30 times more potent than heroin and 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
64 percent of the reported overdoses appear to have involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl, which was developed for pain management in cancer patients and is sold in prescription drugs under names like Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze.
However, synthetic fentanyl that is now being produced mostly in Mexico and China and imported into the United States is now infiltrating much of its drug supply. Fentanyl can be produced in powder forms that can be pressed into pills or in liquid forms sold as eye drops or nasal sprays, and can be injected, smoked, or snorted.
It produces a similar sense of euphoria to other opioid drugs, first showing up in dangerously powerful heroin laced with the substance but then as an additive to other street drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, MDMA, and even marijuana.
As opposed to heroin, which is made from a poppy plant that must be grown, fentanyl can be made anywhere, making it difficult to regulate. It can also be made and sold far more cheaply, which, combined with its incredible potency, is a recipe for disaster, as dealers add it in to give their drugs a “kick” despite its incredible lethality.
As little as three milligrams of fentanyl can be a fatal dose, a tenth of the amount of the 30 milligrams of heroin that would pose a similar risk. The strength of fentanyl also means that its overdoses are more difficult to reverse, sometimes showing resistance to the overdose-reducing drug Narcan or requiring higher doses of it.
Even more worrisome, the DEA recently issued a warning about the proliferation of fentanyl pressed to look like legitimate opioid pain medications like Percocet or Oxycodone that they are far more potent than, dangerously increasing the risk of an unintentional overdose. Fentanyl laced imitators of non-opiate drugs, like Xanax and Adderall, have also been reported. The agency reports seizing 9.5 million of these fake pills this year, more than in the previous two combined.
Experts refer to fentanyl as a “different beast” than its predecessors and worry that the crisis will only worsen. This is evidenced by tragic stories like the one described in one of the source articles listed below of the death of 13 year old Luca Manuel, who took a counterfeit Percocet laced with fentanyl that he bought to cope with pain from a root canal and died of an overdose. It is now not only heavy drug users who are at risk of overdose but anyone who so much as dabbles in almost any illegal drug.
On the bright side, the scope of the current overdose crisis has prompted the Biden administration to take action. Reportedly, they are considering making fentanyl easier to research, which could result in better ways of combating its effects. They are also considering reclassifying it as a schedule 1 drug, meaning it would be classified as having no medical use and its possession could be more harshly persecuted.
They have also allowed for federal funding of test strips that can detect the presence of fentanyl in illicit drugs that can be distributed to at risk users, while New York has opened up the US’s first supervised injection sites, where trained professionals will be on site to reverse any overdoses that do occur.
While these harm reduction measures are steps in the right direction, the surest way to avoid fentanyl contamination is, of course, by not doing drugs at all. The fact that fentanyl is making so much of our drug supply so unsafe means that drug abuse and addiction is more dangerous than ever, as it only takes one unwitting use of an unsafe batch to invoke an irreversible tragedy.
If you are worried about a loved one who is currently suffering from addiction, now is no time to let the problem go unaddressed. If you have already tried talking to them about their addiction and they remain resistant to getting help, it may be time to learn more about the Marchman Act, a Florida statute that allows someone who is a danger to themselves or others due to a substance abuse disorder to be involuntarily committed to a treatment program provided certain other conditions are met.
To learn more about the Marchman Act or about how one of our skilled intervention counselors can help you through the process of confronting your loved one or of filing a Marchman Act petition if lesser measures are unsuccessful, feel free to call us anytime at 833-497-3808 or to contact us online anytime here.