Stephen is an online writer and former English teacher who is interested in sociology, economics, and literature.
Fentanyl is a scourge that is killing more and more people each year. Its reach extends far beyond the users that one might typically call addicts because it's touching the lives of people who would normally have nothing to do with the twilit world of drug use.
Fentanyl abuse is spreading internationally, taking lives wherever it appears. Authorities and carers have taken different approaches to the problem, but none seems capable of curbing its effects.
A few years ago, most people had never heard of fentanyl. Now, it is the number one cause of accidental death in the United States, killing more people than car crashes or guns. Currently, around 150 people die every day from opioid misuse.
What Is Fentanyl?
Way back in 1960, a Belgian chemist, Dr. Paul Janssen, was looking for a more effective painkiller. With the opioid fentanyl, he had found what he wanted - it is 100 times more potent than morphine.
It was accepted for use in other European countries in 1963 and approved for use in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration in 1968. Even then there were serious concerns about possible misuse. These concerns became widespread when the patent on fentanyl expired in 1981 and sales increased by a factor of ten.
Its efficacy as a pain-management tool led to it being widely prescribed for chronic pain and post-surgery recovery.
Before the 1990s, fentanyl had to be injected, but new delivery techniques such as patches, tablets, and sprays made the opioid widely available and easier to use. Unfortunately, backed by misleading advertising that suggested that addiction was rare, doctors over-prescribed the drug for all sorts of pain management.
People were finding that once started on fentanyl, it was very difficult to stop using it. These were people from all walks of life, ordinary people who would never dream of buying heroin. But now, housewives, housepainters, secretaries, and athletes were addicts.
It is an economic fact that if there is a demand, someone will provide a supply. Soon, pharmaceutical fentanyl was complemented by illicit fentanyl.
Fentanyl on the Streets
Mexican cartels are responsible for much of the illicit fentanyl on American streets. A typical route may involve a cargo ship dropping barrels into the coastal waters, the barrels are picked up by a smaller boat and unloaded at a dock. From there, the precursor chemicals are stored and wait for transport to laboratories inland. The labs make the finished product and it is shipped north, across the border, and onto the market.
The process is highly compartmentalized, people know their place and keep their mouths shut. From bobbing around in the water to sitting in a dealer's pocket in the U.S. can take just a few days.
This illicit fentanyl is added to other drugs such as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and others. The reason why the cartels do this is that adding fentanyl increases the potency of these drugs. This makes the drugs more potent and more addictive. It is a cheap way to increase market share and, of course, very dangerous.
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Someone buying a little coke for a Saturday night party can't be sure that his cocaine doesn't contain a little fentanyl to give it an extra kick. Just 2 milligrams of fentanyl can be deadly.
In March 2022, seven people were rushed to a hospital in Florida suffering from severe overdoses. They had been enjoying spring break and bought a little cocaine to help things along. Five of them were West Point cadets. All were lucky because they were found in time; things could have turned out very differently.
There is a documentary on YouTube called "Ten Dollar Death Trip." Written and presented by Dominic Streeter, it talks about the situation in Vancouver. The following comes from an interview with a dealer who is selling fentanyl on the streets:
"You go online, on the dark web. You order an ounce of fentanyl from China - cost you $350, pay an extra $50, next day it's delivered right to your door. You take that $400 worth of Fentanyl and you make a 1000 grams of 'down' and you're getting anywhere between 100, 120 per gram, so do the math."
Roughly, this means that for your $400 investment, you can make $100,000.
People are often ashamed of their addiction. They will take their drugs in hidden corners because of shame and stigma. This makes treating an overdose difficult. Because fentanyl can kill, and kill quickly, it is essential that anyone who has overdosed is treated as quickly as possible.
The most efficacious treatment is with naloxone (sometimes referred to as its brand name Narcan). Naloxone is an opioid antagonist that immediately blocks the effect of opioids such as fentanyl. It can be injected or used as a nasal spray. But, to be effective, it must be administered within three minutes of an overdose.
Police officers, medical technicians, and other first responders are trained in its use. In some U.S. states, family members can get training.
Because the use of fentanyl, and other opioids, is now so commonplace, it is a good idea to have naloxone on hand everywhere that an addict might be found. This would include all public spaces, bars, police stations, basically everywhere. If someone in your household is using one of these opioids, whether under prescription or not, keep naloxone handy.
A possible way to make opioid misuse less dangerous is to provide safe spaces where people can take the drug. If clean syringes are available and trained people are on hand to help if there are problems, fatalities would drop. In the documentary mentioned above, local clinics are staffed by local people who know the users in their district. A level of trust is established.
I had surgery a few years ago and was prescribed an opioid to help with the immediate pain. I don't remember the brand name, but I was only given four or five tablets. I took the treatment as instructed and the night I stopped, I couldn't sleep. The withdrawal symptoms were appalling, my entire body itched furiously. I limped down to the local emergency room where I was given an injection that immediately cured the problem. But while I was suffering withdrawal symptoms, I would have done anything for another pill.
I was addicted after a very short period.
We are not going to be able to stop the misuse of fentanyl; demand is too high. We can only try to manage it.
If you know or suspect that a family member or friend is having problems with opioid misuse, seek professional help immediately.
Sources and Further Information
- Fentanyl DrugFacts | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Offers basic facts about the synthetic opioid fentanyl including how it is abused, its effect on the brain, and other health effects.
- Inside The Fentanyl Crisis | Ten Dollar Death Trip | Documentary Central - YouTube
A new synthetic drug is killing more than gun crime, homicide and car accidents combined, and it's 100 times stronger than heroin.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.