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A new threat is surging in the drug world: Fentanyl. Drug overdose numbers are rising in the U.S., with the total number exceeding 100,000 for the first time in 2021 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioids like fentanyl are responsible for more than 60% of those overdose deaths, making it one of the most dangerous drugs out there.
Fentanyl is an extremely powerful synthetic opioid. It is 50 times more potent than heroin and 50-100 times more powerful than morphine. The lethal dose is said to be two milligrams, which is roughly the same amount as 10-15 grains of salt.
There are two types of fentanyl, pharmaceutical fentanyl and illicitly manufactured fentanyl. Pharmaceutical fentanyl was designed for pain management, especially for cancer patients or to treat post-surgery pain. There are rarely deaths involving pharmaceutical fentanyl unless it is misused. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl, on the other hand, is extremely dangerous.
Fentanyl has many different forms. On its own, it can be found in powder form, where it looks similar to cocaine or heroin, or liquid form, where it can be used as eyedrops, nasal spray, or dropped onto a blotting paper.
Because of its potency, it is easy to get high from a very small amount of fentanyl. This makes it addictive for anyone who takes it and cheap for dealers to produce. Dealers take advantage of this by mixing fentanyl into other illicit drugs like heroin and cocaine, driving their profits up. Fentanyl has also been commonly found mixed into pain pills, such as Oxycodone and Norco, as well as Xanax, which is a prescription medication for anxiety.
Fake prescription pills are becoming extremely prevalent across the U.S. The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a Public Safety Alert about the issue in September of 2021, stating that from January-September 2021, they seized 9.6 million counterfeit pills, most of which contained fentanyl or meth. This nine-month amount was more than the previous two years combined.
The fact that fentanyl can be hidden in other drugs makes it extremely dangerous, because many people take fentanyl without even realizing it. Anyone who uses any substance is at risk of being exposed to fentanyl.
Fentanyl poses a danger to everyone, even teens and children. A rising threat in schools is a new phenomenon known as rainbow fentanyl.
Rainbow fentanyl is fentanyl being sold in the form of colorful powder or pills that look like candy. In a press release about the issue, United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Administrator Anne Milgram said, “Rainbow fentanyl—fentanyl pills and powder that come in a variety of bright colors, shapes, and sizes—is a deliberate effort by drug traffickers to drive addiction amongst kids and young adults.” In August 2022, rainbow fentanyl was found by law enforcement in 18 different states.
Stories of teens overdosing on fentanyl are becoming common. The organization A Song for Charlie was founded to raise awareness of the dangers of fentanyl after 22-year-old Charlie Ternan overdosed on fentanyl three weeks before his college graduation. Charlie took a pill he believed to be Percocet, a pain reliever, for his back pain. The pill was actually fentanyl, and he died within 30 minutes.
Social media is also becoming an increasingly popular drug market for teens, especially with opioids like fentanyl. Sometimes teens don't even know what they're buying, but they end up seriously injured or dead.
Teens are at risk if they take any pill or substance and do not know what is in it. The DEA warns that any pill that does not come from a doctor or pharmacy should not be taken, as it is impossible to tell if it has fentanyl or another substance in it without lab testing.
Fentanyl is an addictive drug, and its withdrawal symptoms are similar to those of other opioids. Some symptoms include:
The CDC identify the symptoms of a fentanyl overdose, including:
Read more from the CDC here.
If you or someone you know has taken fentanyl and could be overdosing, call 911 so they can receive medical help. If you are worried about legal ramifications, many states have a policy called the 911 Good Samaritan Law. Under this law, if you call 911 in the case of a drug overdose, neither you nor the person overdosing will be charged legally.
Contrary to popular belief, fentanyl can only affect someone if it is absorbed directly into the body, not simply by being near or touching the drug. This means you can protect yourself simply by refusing to take a drug if you do not know what is in it.
Keep yourself and others safe by refusing to take unknown substances, and by speaking out about the dangers of drugs like fentanyl.
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