The Dangers of Fentanyl


Fentanyl is a name you hear constantly in the news these days.  It is a very powerful pain reliever used with cancer patients and others suffering from severe pain.  It is up to 100 times stronger than morphine and 50 times stronger than heroin.  Not only is fentanyl being used to give more kick to heroin, it also shows up in pill and powder form.  Much of it is made in illegal labs in Mexico.  Powdered fentanyl is sold on the street for the same price of heroin and is often mistaken for heroin by those abusing it.  The two drugs also are often mixed together.

Heroin laced with Fentanyl is even more dangerous and deadly than just heroin alone.  Fentanyl is a very fast-acting drug.  Too much can shut down breathing almost instantly.  In fact, it acts so quickly that many overdose victims are found with the needle still in their arms.  It is much harder to treat a Fentanyl overdose than it is a heroin overdose.  Medical treatment is needed immediately, or the user will die.

In 2016, there were 844 overdose deaths in West Virginia.  Of those, 324 were fentanyl-related.  Cabell County alone had 73 fentanyl-related deaths compared to 54 heroin-related deaths.  The story is similar in other counties.  Fentanyl has become a huge player on the opioid epidemic scene.  Overdoses from prescription drugs are going down while overdose from fentanyl and heroin are going up dramatically.

Fentanyl not only relieves pain, it also suppresses the respiratory system.  It is extremely addictive and powerful.  It only takes a tiny amount for an overdose.  Autorities must be ever more vigilant to safeguard themsevles from accidental exposure to fentanyl-laced products.  There have been several documented cases of officers and canines unknowingly overdosing during drug tests.

According to Dr. Rahul Gupta, “Because it’s produced in clandestine labs, there are no control measures.  Each batch may have a different potency.  It can be really unpredictable when it gets in the body.  The number of deaths has gone to alarmingly high levels.  With fentanyl, people are going into overdose and dying more quickly.”  Heroin users often unknowingly also ingest fentanyl when shooting up.  That makes overdoses even more probable and harder to predict.

Fake oxycodone, actually made with fentanyl and sold illegally on the street, may be responsible for an increase in overdose deaths in Ohio.  Tennessee and other states are experiencing similar issues.  The drugs bear the same markings as oxycodone tablets and are coming into the country from China and possibly Mexico.  “It’s just Russian roulette,” says the DEA’s Rusty Payne.  “Pharmaceutical grade fentanyl that you have in hospitals and such, that’s not really what we’re talking about here.  We’re talking about black market, underground labs in China that are manufacturing this stuff.”

As mentioned before, both heroin and fentanyl slow down the body and suppress breathing.  If left untreated, the user normally dies.  Naloxone, or Narcan, is now being used in many areas to treat heroin and other opiate overdose problems.  It can work in as little as 20-30 seconds to counteract the effects fo the opiates.  Since the effects of fentanyl tend to last much longer than those of heroin, multiples doses of Nalaxone over a period of time are usually required.  The form and strength of fentanyl varies.  Much of it is time-release and designed to last for many hours or even days.  The treatment can also take several hours or days.

Opiate use and abuse is an ever-growing problem in our society today.  Much stronger drugs like fentanyl are even more dangerous and deadly.  Since most is made in illicit labs, there is little control over its strength and quality.  To say it’s a case of “Buyer Beware” is an understatement.

By David L. Cottrell
For Drug and Alcohol Presentations, Inc.
Charleston, WV