For instance, just between 2015 and 2016, overdose deaths involving fentanyl more than doubled. In fact, in a recent New York Times publication indicated that fentanyl is killing people faster than the HIV epidemic did at its peak in the 1980s.
So, what is fentanyl? Most of us associate the opioid crisis with heroin or an oxycontin type prescription. Few really know what fentanyl is. Fentanyl is a synthetic painkiller which was originally used to help end stage cancer patients. And, although fentanyl has been a problem for our public health for quite some time, the extent to which it is a nationwide threat is just now coming to light.
Some frightening facts about fentanyl abound. First, fentanyl is about 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more powerful than morphine- a fact most people do not realize. Further, fentanyl can be fatal just by touching it. In fact, even law enforcement officers are highly cautioned when handling the drug. Naloxone, a drug that is used to counteract heroin overdoses, is used in doses 4 to 5 times higher to counteract the negative effects of fentanyl and prevent overdose. Last, withdrawal from fentanyl can take up to 2 months.
Even more alarming, studies by the National Center for Health Statistics indicate that just three years ago deaths related to fentanyl were around 3,000 and are now estimated at 20,000. Most of these deaths are thought to be due to ignorance. That is to say, the users did not realize the dangers of fentanyl, the users did not know that the drug they were using was mixed with fentanyl, and users do not realizers that it takes a much smaller amount of fentanyl to cause an overdose.