The US DEA announced that authorities across the US seized enough fentanyl to kill everyone in America this year. Yet fentanyl still exists, is still a major problem, and is causing a crisis among young and old drug users.
Why is fentanyl such an issue in America? Where is it coming from, and how do we seize so much of it only to have more on the streets?
The Fentanyl Crisis: It’s Added to Almost Every Drug
Fentanyl is a drug that has become commonly found. In fact, the DEA says that over 80% of drugs they’ve seized are tainted with fentanyl. On top of that, they’ve seized the equivalent of 379 million deadly doses in the past year.
Most drug users aren’t taking fentanyl on purpose; they think they’re taking something else. Usually, fentanyl is an additive. Made in India, Mexico, or China, the drugs are often cross-contaminated in transit. Most of them come into the country via the Mexican border. This is also where much of it is seized.
Much of the fentanyl mixing, however, is done on purpose. Drug dealers in different regions of Mexico, typically one cartel or another, add the fentanyl to give the drug some extra “kick” or make it addictive. This is often done with callous indifference to the consequences.
In the past few years, people have accidentally overdosed on fentanyl using drugs like cocaine or Molly. Because the drug users are often opioid-naïve – that is, they do not use opioids regularly and have no tolerance to them – the drug is too strong, and they stop breathing.
Without a reversal with the lifesaving drug Narcan, opioid naïve users typically die from accidental fentanyl exposure.
Can Harm Reduction Make a Dent in Fentanyl’s Death Toll?
Harm reduction advocates say that the fentanyl overdose crisis is a public health emergency. Like coping with the opioid epidemic, health officials must educate the public. Even though authorities say that fentanyl is ubiquitous – it’s been found in everything from illicit marijuana to heroin – many young people have never heard of it. And if they have, they may think of it as something that only “hard” drug users have to worry about. However, it’s truly a hazard to all people who use drugs.
Many addiction advocates are pushing public health authorities to devote more resources to harm reduction. Fentanyl testing kits, for example, can save lives for young people who take club drugs and are willing to exercise caution. Narcan, an opioid drug overdose reversal drug, may soon be required in all California schools. And education about the fact that fentanyl is in the majority of street drugs is a good thing, too. The DEA’s One Pill Can Kill campaign has some good resource material to start with.
Harm reduction is an important intervention that helps people stay alive until they are able to get sober. It typically involves things like Narcan training, handing out fentantyl testing kits, clean needles and needle exchanges, as well as information on helpful programs, treatment and detox, and resources such as housing programs.
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