Credit: USA Today
Garfield Senior High School

Fentanyl ― the new drug killing thousands

An unprecedented and seemingly abundant drug is making its way through the market. Leaving catastrophe and tragedy in its wake, fentanyl is further exacerbating the already severe opioid crisis in America. Worst of all, health and public officials across the nation are unsure of how to crack down on the distribution of this lethal drug.

Contrary to common belief, fentanyl is by no means new. For decades traffickers have laced heroine with small amounts of fentanyl in order to maximize profits and increase potency.

Fentanyl is much cheaper than heroine but it’s also exponentially more powerful. It’s extremely easy to manufacture fentanyl because it’s a synthetic drug. As opposed to the production of heroine, a long and complex process that requires the resin (a sticky and organic substance found in most plants) of poppy flowers, the manufacture of fentanyl requires little skill.

Amateurs can easily be taught how to make it with basic equipment but even in the safest of settings, the production of this drug is still incredibly dangerous which is yet another concern for public officials. Moreover, the smallest dose of fentanyl can be deadly and simply inhaling fumes or coming into contact with it without the proper protection is harmful and potentially fatal.

But if fentanyl has always been around, why is it just making headlines? Why now? Well, drug distributors have decided to cut out the middle man once and for all and have begun selling larger amounts of undiluted and pure fentanyl.

Furthermore, the influx of fentanyl from Chinese and Mexican cartels is further driving the market to create demand for this fatal drug and demand there is. Indeed, because fentanyl is more powerful and potent than heroine, it’s also much more addictive. On that same note, it’s harder to withdraw from fentanyl and rehabilitation takes a substantially longer time.

Originally, fentanyl was primarily used as an opioid pain reliever for cancer patients. Fentanyl is approximately 50 to 100 times stronger and more potent than your typical morphine. Yet, most fentanyl-related deaths do not stem from prescription but rather illegal consumption.

The Northeast has been hit particularly hard, yet the selling of illegal fentanyl isn’t exclusive to that area alone. Ohio, for instance, has experienced a 98 percent increase in unintentional drug overdose from 2010 to 2015, according to the CDC. The production of illegally manufactured fentanyl plays a huge role in this exponential growth.

The CDC also reported that nearly 10,000 people across America died of a fentanyl-related overdose in 2015 and this number is only skyrocketing. Needless to say, the prevalence of this problem is disarming for everyone.

To make matters worse, local and state resources are utterly swamped by the fentanyl endemic. Multiple state agencies are stockpiling naloxone (the reversal drug used to combat an opioid overdose), increasing police surveillance for fentanyl distribution and passing harsher policies to punish drug traffickers. But even with this response to the dangerous spike in fentanyl overdoses, the death toll continues to grow. Indeed, state officials are scratching their heads wondering how exactly to fight this nation-wide crisis.

It’s important to note, though, that most consumers aren’t even aware that the opioids they’re buying are laced with the lethal drug of fentanyl, so they’ll usually and inadvertently consume fatal quantities of this drug.

Perhaps the unforeseen and sudden move of combining heroin and cocaine with fentanyl by traffickers has yet to be detected by buyers on the market but this won’t remain the case for long. For now, states may not be breaking through the opioid crisis, but they have had success in monitoring the spread of the fentanyl outbreak.

Rhode Island, New York, Maryland and Massachusetts have begun to share all data pertaining to fentanyl overdoses and are swapping and implementing policies and regulations to curtail this severe issue. It’s only time before they have a breakthrough in the opioid crisis.