The synthetic opioid fentanyl has taken this country by storm, with no community left unharmed. It has surpassed all other drugs in prevalence. According to Millennium Health, it was the drug most often detected in urinalysis test results from substance use disorder treatment settings in 2022.
Fentanyl Is More Lucrative for Dealers
The cartels reap substantial financial gains from pushing fentanyl. It is a highly addictive synthetic opioid, so drug traffickers can hook clients quickly, turning them into repeat buyers.
Fentanyl is also very strong: 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. A very small amount can provide the effects that users are looking for, making it easier to traffic and more profitable than other drugs. However, that tiny amount – no more than a grain or two – can be deadly, especially for those who don’t realize they’re using a substance adulterated with fentanyl.
Fentanyl’s Spread Is Strategic
This drug’s widespread distribution and popularity is no coincidence. The high rate of fentanyl poisonings and mass-overdose events are part of strategic moves by the cartels, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration reports that the record number of fatalities in 2021-2022 are due to the intentional spreading of the drug.
Fentanyl Comes Disguised as Other Substances
Often, people acquire fentanyl without realizing it because the cartels camouflage it in counterfeit pills and powders. These are designed to look exactly like prescription medications such as Oxycontin, or illicit substances such as cocaine or heroin. However, they may contain a combination that includes a deadly amount of the substance, or they may even contain it exclusively.
Millennium Health reports that 60% of fake prescription pills confiscated and analyzed by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol in 2022 contained a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl. Also in 2022, the DEA seized more than 50 million fake prescription pills laced with fentanyl, RollCall.com reports.
Fentanyl Strength Varies
All fentanyl is not the same. Sometimes the substance in question is a fentanyl analogue. These are synthetic opioids similar in chemical structure to fentanyl, and they can have similar effects, according to Millennium Health. However, they can be vastly different strengths. Carfentanil is the most potent – 100 times greater than fentanyl. Other analogues are less potent, but still potentially deadly. A batch may contain a mixture of analogues, so predicting its strength and lethality outside of a lab may be impossible.
Users risk their lives every single time they use fentanyl.
Overdose Is Reversible
During a fentanyl overdose, a person’s breathing is likely to slow or stop, which can quickly lead to coma, brain damage, and death. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that when someone administers naloxone, the medication stops the effects of opioids such as fentanyl, restoring normal breathing. If the strength of the opioid in the system is significant, it may take a second dose of naloxone to reverse the overdose.
Anyone who administers naloxone should also call 911, as there may be lingering effects of fentanyl or other drugs in the system. Naloxone does not have a reversing effect on non-opioid substances.
Naloxone only reverses or blocks the effects of opioids for 30 to 90 minutes, so it can’t prevent an overdose at a later time.
Recovery Is Possible
Naloxone can’t reverse substance use disorder. However, even though fentanyl is highly addictive, recovery is possible. Medication assisted treatment in conjunction with counseling and behavioral therapy can set people free from the grip of this highly addictive opioid (and other substances, as well).
If you or someone you know needs help overcoming a substance use disorder, please call West Sound Treatment Center at (360) 876-9430 to learn how to take the first step.
Millennium Health Signals Report™. “Fentanyl in Focus: Perspectives on Polysubstance Use in 2022.” Retrieved April 27, 2023 from https://www.millenniumhealth.com/signalsreport/
United States Drug Enforcement Administration. “DEA Warns of Increase in Mass-Overdose Events Involving Deadly Fentanyl.” Retrieved April 27, 2023 from https://www.dea.gov/press-releases/2022/04/06/dea-warns-increase-mass-overdose-events-involving-deadly-fentanyl
Roll Call. “US Announces Charges, Sanctions in Fight To Stem Fentanyl Trafficking.” Retrieved April 27, 2023 from https://rollcall.com/2023/04/14/us-announces-charges-sanctions-in-fight-to-stem-fentanyl-trafficking/ National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Fentanyl DrugFacts.” Retrieved April 27, 2023 from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/fentanyl