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What is fentanyl? Why is it in the news?

The New York Times has had several articles recently about fentanyl and all the people that are dying from it. Fentanyl might sound like it’s just some new drug that’s popped up and it’s killing people left and right, which it is killing people left and right. But it’s not a drug that’s just popped up. Fentanyl has been prescribed in the United States medicinal world for pain management to help with severe pain, chronic pain and in end of life stages is something for a long period of time. It’s a powerful painkiller – some say it could be up to 50 times or a 100 times stronger than heroin. It is used medicinally in the United States and there are controlled versions of it, where the dosage is controlled, including the duration and its release into the body.

Fentanyl on the Streets

We must separate the prescription fentanyl from the fentanyl that is being sold on the streets. Prescription fentanyl is manufactured by pharmaceutical companies under the guidelines of the FDA and is only available through a doctor’s prescription. Fentanyl sold on the streets is being made in illegal labs in Mexico and China and is being trafficked by multimillion dollar drug cartels.

Carfentanil which is even more powerful than fentanyl, a 100 times more potent by some accounts than fentanyl is cheap to make and easy to bring in because of the small size of the doses. Carfentanil has no legal human applications.

Fentanyl in Anti-anxiety Medications

Many people who have been prescribed opioid medications such as oxycodone, vicodin, percocet, xanax and others by their doctors have developed a dependence on them and when they can no longer get prescriptions from their doctors, they turn to the black market where they’re called press pills. As people use opioids over long periods of time, they get addicted to them and need larger and more frequent doses, and turn to the press pills to get a similar drug that they have been using.

Unfortunately, what most people don’t realize is that the drugs they’re buying illegally also contain fentanyl. Drug dealers and suppliers have noticed that by adding traces of fentanyl to a drug, it can produce significant addictive effects in the user which will ensure that the individuals keep coming back for the drug. The problem with this is that fentanyl is an immensely potent drug and people without any type of tolerance to that powerful drug are getting it in their regular drugs. So a majority of fentanyl deaths that we’re hearing about is not people who are chasing and pursuing fentanyl – it’s people that are trying to get a press oxycodone, or roxicodone pill. It’s people that are trying to get Xanax off the black market and somehow it’s found its way into stimulants such as methamphetamines and cocaine so people are looking for other drugs but fentanyl is being added to all of these drugs.

Why Fentanyl is a Killer

Fentanyl is a powerful painkiller which means it’s a powerful respiratory depressant, so it slows down an individual’s breathing. When a person takes fentanyl in combination with other substances such as alcohol or other medications or drugs that also slow down their breathing it’s a recipe for a person to stop breathing completely, killing them. This is what is happening in a majority of fentanyl overdose deaths.

There was a study that came out that said from April of 2020 to April of 2021, there were 100,000 deaths because of drugs. These numbers will probably increase to somewhere between 150 to 200,000 people in the following year because the 2020-21 statistics were completely suppressed when it started to get really bad.

Why is Fentanyl in the News? Imagine if there’s a mass murderer running around killing people left and right it’s going to be in the news. Fentanyl is the same way – it’s in the news because it’s killing people. We have program participants at Buckeye Recovery who have finished our program and they were positive for fentanyl in their urine analysis. They say they’ve never tried fentanyl, that they don’t like opiates, but somewhere they took another drug and because the other drug was laced with fentanyl that pulled up into their system.

There are individuals, usually opiate addicts whose drug of choice used to be heroin, who were intravenous users, but when they switch to fentanyl, they shift to smoking fentanyl pills because they get the same effects without having to use needles. This is a shift from where the smoking and snorting users would go to injecting, to now the other way around where the injecting users are going to smoking the substance because of its potency. One time use of fentanyl can kill a person. It has killed many people.

Lethal Doses of Heroin vs. Fentanyl

If you Google the lethal dose of heroin versus a lethal dose of fentanyl, it’s striking and overwhelming to see the amount of fentanyl it takes to cause an overdose. Fentanyl has been around for a very long time but it’s within the last few years getting more news coverage and bringing more awareness to it because of the deaths that people are experiencing and the overdoses.

People are more familiar with morphine, and fentanyl is 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine is. That’s the reason why there are a lot of overdoses happening and that’s why it’s so important to bring awareness and to talk about it so that people can really engage in harm reduction. Abstinence is great but if it’s not there then harm reduction is really important in order to save lives.

Testing for Fentanyl

There are many people who are testing individuals at home with the 10 panel cups to check for the presence of drugs. However, it’s important to know that the 10 panel cups don’t test for fentanyl. Therefore someone could be using fentanyl in your home, knowingly or unknowingly, and although they’re being tested they keep showing up negative even though they’re actually using fentanyl.

There is a product called a dipstick which you can put into the urine sample and that can separately test for the fentanyl. Some community colleges and local colleges give away free test dip strips because they assume that college students on some level will be dabbling in or using substances. It is a good step in harm reduction to test their drugs for presence of fentanyl.

Accidental Overdosing

Because fentanyl is illegally being added to other drugs, most cases of fentanyl overdosing and deaths are accidental. In one particular case in Fort Lauderdale, a group of people rented a house for spring break and had a cocaine party, but a large majority of them overdosed, some leading to deaths because they had no idea that their drugs were laced with fentanyl.

In cases like these where fentanyl is being added to drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamines, the risk of overdosing is even more severe because it is a combination of drugs that are meant to have opposite effects.

Reach out for Help

If you or your loved one is suffering from an addiction to opioids, seek help before it is too late. With commitment and perseverance, it is possible to recover from your addiction and create a life that is healthy and safe. At Buckeye Recovery Network, we provide customized treatment plans that are focused on outcomes. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help.

Today is going to be the best day of your life.

Kelsey Gearhart

Director of Business Development

Kelsey carries multiple years of experience working in the substance abuse and mental health treatment field. Her passion for this field comes from her personally knowing recovery from addiction.

Prior to Buckeye she held titles of Recovery Coach, Operations Director, and Admissions Director. Kelsey was brought on at Buckeye Recovery as the Director of Business Development. She has a passion for ensuring every individual gets the help that they need, and does so by developing relationships with other providers.

Kelsey also oversees our women’s sober living environments – The Chadwick House for Women. She is committed to creating a safe, nurturing, and conducive environment for all women that walk through the doors of Chadwick.