The Drug in Every Drug: Fentanyl

Bethany Woodcock '19, Managing Editor

63,632 drug overdose deaths in 2016 in America.

This number is only going to increase with the opioid issue the United States is facing; the number of drug overdose deaths have increased 200% since 2000.

So, what’s the hook about these drugs?

Opioids bind to receptors in the brain, reducing pain sensations and relaxing the body. Going a few hours without the drug, people who are addicted become “dope sick,” their body suffering from withdrawal symptoms. They feel nauseous and irritated, the most common symptoms of the body needing the next dose of the drug. In essence, not using the drug starves the brain from “good feeling” that they got while using the drug.

The biggest problem: fentanyl. This synthetic drug is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, a prescribed painkiller. It is the most powerful opioid in medicine. In 2011, fentanyl was involved in only 4% of all drug fatalities. In 2016, fentanyl was marked as the deadliest drug in America, killing 18,335, accounting for 28.8% of all drug overdose deaths. Snorted, injected or smoked, users still take the risk of using the drug, when some of them can be fatal in just one use.

The other major issue about fentanyl? Drug dealers are using fentanyl as a “filler” when they make their products involving cocaine and heroin. This allows the dealers to spread their product further, and make more profit. Fentanyl is cheap and makes the heroin or cocaine much more powerful.

The bottom line: fentanyl is easy to mix with other products without people knowing it.

In California, dealers often pass it off under the name “Norco,” and buyers don’t know its fentanyl. In one 10 day period, the batch of “Norco” caused at least 10 deaths and 48 overdoses.

Just a quarter of a milligram, .25mg, can kill the user. To put that in comparison, a baby aspirin is 81 mg, so divide the baby aspirin into 324 pieces and that is the quantity of fentanyl that can be fatal.

Law enforcement especially must be very careful when handling fentanyl; the drug is so powerful, it can be absorbed through the pores of their hands, or even simply breathed in. This is a big problem they face when responding to drug overdoses since they don’t know what drug may be sitting out when they get to the scene of the overdose. They may come in contact with fentanyl that could cause them to accidentally overdose just from being around it.

Many experts have pointed to overprescribing painkillers as the source of the US opioid crisis, though it has turned into an issue that is beyond overprescription by pharmacists. The fentanyl found on the streets isn’t coming from the hospital, but from Mexico and China. Dealers are mixing ingredients together that should not be mixed together. Users don’t know that a very small amount of the drug can cause an overdose, or even death. This problem is going to get worse if steps aren’t being taken to get these drugs off the street.


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