(ABC4) – According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from May 2020 to April 2021 there were over 100,000 deaths from drug overdoses in the United States. This marks the first time in the history of the US that the number of overdose deaths in a single year exceeded 100,000. Over 60 percent of those deaths involved synthetic opioids, mainly illicitly manufactured fentanyls, or fentanyl analogs, which are drugs designed to mimic the effects of the original drug.
Fentanyl, the now well-known, incredibly potent substance that has caused an enormous amount of damage to families and communities throughout the nation, was originally introduced into the drug market as a replacement for heroin. Currently, the opioid is typically pressed into counterfeit pills that look like your average prescription drug, such as oxycodone, alprazolam, and many others.
Over 70 percent of the deaths associated with fentanyl were males, and in the western region, one out of every five was under the age of 25. Counterfeit pills were found to be much more prevalent in the West than in the rest of the US. Most of the deaths associated with fentanyl occurred at home, and many of them with another person in the same house or apartment, data shows.
The high potency of fentanyl, as well as the growing numbers of counterfeit pills, have sharply increased the risk of overdose, spurring an urgent need for the expansion of harm reduction, overdose prevention, and substance abuse treatment programs. The need for new harm reduction services has become clear, as traditional methods like syringe service programs, do not apply to those newer to drug use or those who are not injecting drugs.
As it may be hard to curb access to these fentanyl-laced drugs, one hugely important part of preventing overdose deaths is access to Naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, which is a medicine that rapidly reverses opioid overdose. Naloxone can quickly restore breathing to someone whose breathing has slowed or even stopped altogether. The drug works by attaching to the same receptors in the brain that fentanyls would attach to, blocking and reversing the effects of the fentanyls at its source. Access to Naloxone is critical for first responders and drug users alike, as it will help to ensure a timely response to the overdose.
Fentanyl test strips have become another part of the effort to prevent opioid overdose, though drug dealers and users can’t be relied upon to test their drugs.
Adopting new ways to address the rising numbers of overdose deaths will be crucial moving forward, as families are being torn apart by the prevalence of fentanyl in the US.