Fentanyl currently dominates overdose clusters. Over 150 people per day die from synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Unfortunately, those deaths continue to increase due to fentanyl’s unique properties and current distribution. Here is an overview of why fentanyl is so lethal.
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What is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid originally intended to act as a painkiller. Doctors primarily use it in surgery.
However, the drug offers a unique chemical structure that allows it to be easily modified. Illicit drug dealers can increase its potency and lace it with other street drugs. It is commonly mixed with heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine into pill form. This end product resembles its source drugs, and many users buy these pills without realizing they contain fentanyl.
Dealers and manufacturers also create pure fentanyl derivatives and claim them as another drug. For example, many distribute fentanyl and claim it’s heroin. This situation led to a common trend in emergency rooms where alleged heroin doses are actually fentanyl. Many of these patients show zero heroin in their systems.
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The Lethal Properties of Fentanyl
This confusion becomes dangerous due to fentanyl’s strength. It is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. People think they are getting one drug but actually receive fentanyl–making overdose easy.
The overdoses link to illicitly manufactured fentanyl, which illegal drug markets distribute for its heroin-like effects. Dealers and manufacturers add it to other drugs to increase potency and make them more addictive and powerful. Due to its potency, dealers can traffic fewer drugs while also meeting their buyers’ expectations.
However, buyers can’t detect fentanyl by sight, taste or smell. The only way to detect it is by using test strips. If users can find the strips, they are inexpensive and offer results within five minutes. But these tests can’t detect fentanyl-like drugs, like carfentanil, so they are not a safety guarantee. Making these strips more available is part of many fentanyl overdose prevention plans.
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Solutions for the fentanyl crisis mainly rest in increasing access to recovery options. Opioid agonists, like methadone and buprenorphine, can reduce opioid symptoms and cravings when someone becomes addicted. Also, naloxone reverses an overdose by blocking opioid effects, including those arising from fentanyl.
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