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The Fentanyl Crisis: Awareness and Prevention by Marianne Gouveia

August 21, 2022 was national Fentanyl Awareness and Prevention day. This day was created by
the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to help raise awareness around the Fentanyl
crisis in our country. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin and
100 times more potent that morphine. “Fentanyl is the single deadliest drug threat our nation has
ever encountered,” said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram. “From large cities to rural America,
no community is safe from the presence of fentanyl.”

Here are a few quick facts:

  • Criminal drug networks are mass-producing fake pills and falsely marketing them as
    legitimate prescription pills to deceive the American public.
  • Counterfeit pills are widely available, and law enforcement and their partners are seizing
    deadly fake pills at record rates.
  • Counterfeit pills are more lethal than ever before. The number of DEA-seized counterfeit
    pills with fentanyl has jumped nearly 430 percent since 2019. DEA lab testing reveals
    that 2 out of every 5 pills with fentanyl contain a potentially lethal dose.

According to the CDC, an estimated 107,622 people in the United States died of drug overdoses
and poisonings in 2021, with 67 percent of those deaths involving synthetic opioids like
fentanyl. Only two milligrams of fentanyl are a potentially lethal dose. Two milligrams are
equivalent a few grains of salt.

Overdose deaths are the leading cause of death for Americans 18-45 years old. In fact, fentanyl
is involved in killing more Americans than any other cause of death including cancer, heart
disease, and accidents. It is also alarming that Fentanyl is responsible for more deaths in
American youth then heroin, meth, cocaine, benzos, and prescription drugs. Our youth, ages 14
to 23 have the fastest rate of fentanyl-related deaths.

Drug traffickers are mixing fentanyl with other illicit drugs—in powder and pill form—to drive
addiction and create repeat customers, many people who are overdosing and dying don’t even
know that they are taking fentanyl. A few grains for this drug are being mixed with common
recreational drugs often used by teenagers and young adults. These fake pills have been found in
all 50 states and are being sold on-line, and they look identical to the real pill.

Because the drug cartels are flooding the market with fentanyl, Fentanyl’s ultra-high potency
makes it among the most addictive drugs. Fentanyl is cleared from the body rapidly, meaning
that withdrawal symptoms come on fast and intensely, not long after the last dose. This quality
makes the drug even more addictive because users will seek the next dose soon after their last
dose to stop the withdrawal, thus establishing the addiction cycle early on.

What Can We Do?

There are some things that you can do to help raise awareness and support prevention efforts.

Talk Openly About Drugs: First, talking openly with your family, especially your children,
about using illicit drugs should be a priority. Educate them on fentanyl and how is it used to
addict people. Let them know that you cannot always be certain that a drug has been laced with
a few grains of fentanyl because it is hard to tell the difference by sight, taste, smell, color or
feel. There are many fentanyl test kits that test powders, crystals, granules, flakes, pills, tablets,
or liquids. If you suspect someone you love is using fentanyl, encourage them to use a test kit so
they can be sure that they will be safe.

Recognize the Signs of Addiction. Different people become addicted at different rates. Some
addicts try to prevent addiction by letting time pass between usages of strong opiates and others
feel compelled to use the drug continuously once they start, which walks them straight into
addiction. As with any opiate, the main symptoms of fentanyl abuse are euphoria, drowsiness,
lethargy, and mellowness.

If you suspect someone you care about is abusing opioids that may include fentanyl, get them
help right away. There are many organizations with expertise to help people shed themselves of
an addition using a variety of medical treatments and holistic therapies.

Become Part of Education Campaigns. There are many advocacy groups that create campaigns
to help raise awareness around the Fentanyl crisis. Some of my favorites are “One Pill Can Kill”
campaign led the DEA. Another is The Fentanyl Awareness Day organization
(https://www.fentanylawarenessday.org). You can also find many groups in social media that
are working hard to raise awareness.

At EricsHouse, a nonprofit that works will families bereaved by alcohol, drugs, or suicide losses,
we are seeing more fentanyl loss than ever. Not only do we see people who are struggling with
addiction die from fentanyl overdoses, but we see people who innocently take a drug not
knowing it contained fentanyl who pass away. Even more alarming is the fact that we see
fentanyl being used the drug of choice for suicide.

If you have been impacted by a loss, consider getting involved in awareness efforts in your
community. Getting involved will help spread the word. Take advantage of local and national
resources resources that can help guide you to support someone in recovery. And if you are
bereaved by someone who died by Fentanyl, please reach out to us.