Fentanyl overdoses surge, considered an epidemic

Overdoses of fentanyl reach a record high

Cases of fentanyl overdoses are rising in the United States, and spiked in March around the time  schools went on  spring break. 

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid used for treating extreme pain. It is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, which is a non-synthetic or natural opioid. Natural opioids are found in the opium poppy plant. Fentanyl is manufactured in a lab by scientists using the same chemical structure as natural opioids. 

Fentanyl works by binding to opioid receptors, which are located in the pain and emotion control portion of the brain. Fentanyl and other opioids such as morphine and heroin are highly addictive, and will cause the body to build a tolerance and a need for higher doses of the drug. 

It is only available by prescription as a shot, patch or lozenge drop; however, it is made and sold illegally. Illegal fentanyl is made as a pill or powder, put in an eye dropper or nasal spray, or dropped on blotter paper. 

A lot of times, it will be laced in other illegal drugs such as methamphetamine, cocaine, MDMA (ecstasy or molly), and heroin. This is because it only takes a small dose of fentanyl to get desired effects. Dealers of this drug  usually do not disclose to their  customers  that the drugs are laced with fentanyl. This is one of the factors that leads to overdoses, since some people are not accustomed to the powerful effects of fentanyl.

Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are the leading cause of drug overdoses in the United States. In 2020, over 96,000 people died from overdoses, which is 21,000 more than the previous year. In February, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reported over 100,000 overdoses since last spring, which is a record high for a 12 month period. 

Since overdose reporting has a six month wait period, the numbers for 2021 are not complete yet. With the numbers already known, the Center for Disease Control National Center for Health Statistics expects the count for 2021 to be much higher. 

“The risk with fentanyl isn’t just addiction or other side effects—it’s simply death,” Michael Barnett, a professor at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said. 

One problem with treating an overdose is that it is hard to figure out which medication to give. Since other drugs are laced with fentanyl, it is hard to determine what is causing the overdose, especially if the individual was unaware that they took fentanyl. 

There is a medication called Naloxone that can treat a fentanyl overdose, but only if given right away. Since fentanyl is much stronger than other opioids, it often takes multiple doses. Recently, there is a new overdose reversal medication called Narcan that has great potential in successfully treating a fentanyl overdose. 

“We are working to combat the problem in a number of new and innovative ways,” DEA Special Agent in Charge Jarod Forget said. “We have been working with our partners across the region and have some incredible new programs and strategies we are rolling out this year. Those, combined with our already bolstered drug seizures and enforcement numbers, will help us stand up against this outrageous rise in the fentanyl we are seeing in our area.”