You’ve very likely heard of Fentanyl if you have some knowledge about America’s opiate epidemic. Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate that is up to 100 times stronger than morphine. Between 2013-2014, there was an 80% increase in deaths related to Fentanyl overdose. During this same period, DEA seizures of Fentanyl spiked from 942 in 2013 to 3,344 in 2014.
Fentanyl is being added to heroin packs to increase its intensity. This increases sales for dealers who are known to have the “the good stuff.” The issues and dangers of Fentanyl were pushed into the public spotlight by the sudden death of music icon Prince, which was attributed to an overdose of Fentanyl.
You would be incorrect if you believed that Fentanyl – which is attributed to a 200% increase in deaths since 2000 – was the worst it could get. We now have Carfentanil: a synthetic opiate that is 10,000 times stronger than morphine. We watched in horror as the first confirmed Carfentanil overdoses occurred in Ohio; dozens more happened in the days that followed. As with most new drug trends, the Carfentanil craze spread like wildfire. It has now reached Indiana, Florida and, most recently, Michigan.
Carfentanil is used as an elephant tranquilizer, able to knock out a one-ton animal with as little as two milligrams. Think of how little of this drug it would take to have the same impact on a person? Now it is falling into the hands of drug dealers who have no knowledge or training on the potency or effects of this drug that is not approved for human use.
Dr. Zane Horowitz, medical director at the Oregon Poison Center, said “The first time someone uses Carfentanil is usually the last time they use anything.” Active addicts should take particular heed of this ominous warning.
There are already an estimated 129 opiate-related overdoses every day. Experts are projecting it is going to get worse before it gets better with the additions of Fentanyl and Carfentanil.
So what can be done to reduce the lives lost to this epidemic? A multi-faceted approach is really our only hope. There are three vital components: more funding for long term substance abuse treatment, more aggressive law enforcement focused on drug dealers, and nationwide, school-based education and prevention programs.
First and foremost, there must be increased finding for treatment. Every addict who is ready to fight back against their addiction should be able to access a treatment center. Currently, there are long waiting lists at facilities and insufficient time spent in treatment, generally 14-21 days. If we want people to stay clean, we need to give them enough time for counseling and healing.
Arguments against long-term rehabilitation are almost always about costs. But this argument falls apart quickly when you add up the costs of going through the criminal justice system, incarcerations, uncompensated medical care, treatment of Hepatitis C or HIV/AIDS, and other actions and consequences of an addict’s illness that could be eliminated through sustained treatment. All of this doesn’t even bring into account the societal costs of treating addicts as criminals, such as the destruction of families and communities.
Targeting of Fentanyl and Carfentanil dealers needs to become a top priority for law enforcement nationwide. Taking these dealers off the street will reduce the availability of these fatal synthetics. It will also put dealers of other opiates on notice that we are coming for you.
Finally, every school should be required to educate students about the dangers of opiates and prevention programs. These programs have become readily available with the spread of the opiate epidemic to every section of America. Education can keep kids from seeking drugs and can help addicts find the resources they need to change their lives.
The “War on Drugs” has been a failure by all accounts, as it lacked an action plan to make a real difference. With the current opiate epidemic, it is vital that we take action rather than just talk about it. It is the responsibility of our government to support and aid us in this pursuit, regardless of the costs.
We cannot sit by as Fentanyl and Carfentanil raise the number of daily deaths from opiate use. We need all hands on deck, all voices yelling in unison that ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!