SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – As fentanyl-related crimes rise in the state, it’s crucial to have these often-taboo conversations with those around us.

Fentanyl, a drug related buzzword popping up in our headlines recently, like in the Kouri Richins case, is much more than a buzzy catchphrase. But rather, a highly potent synthetic opioid drug 50-100 times stronger than morphine.

The substance often laced in illicit drugs has caused thousands to overdose. Just recently, two people were jailed after almost half a million dollars and fentanyl were seized down in southern Utah. Merianne Spencer, a health statistics researcher for the CDC explained how the number of deaths due to fentanyl has risen nationally.

“The rate’s pretty much more than tripled,” she said. “Just to get a sense of the numbers, in 2016 it was 18,499 deaths. By 2021, it was 69,943 deaths.”

A common misconception of fentanyl is that it’s so potent, if you touch it you’ll die. There is no evidence to support this, however, if ingested, the consequences could be deadly. Utah state senator and University of Utah’s Dr. Jennifer Plumb, a substance expert, explains another common misconception when consuming illicit products.

“People that buy a pill from maybe a friend or a source that’s not inside a pharmacy… It looks just like a blue Percocet… it’s not a blue Percocet,” said Dr. Plumb. “It’s pure fentanyl, which is really risky for folks. But that kind of connection in the mind hasn’t been made. ‘Oh, it’s still a pill, it can’t be that dangerous,’ That’s something Utah’s got to get over.”

Fentanyl test strips, a harm reduction strategy, according to the CDC are a “low-cost method of helping prevent drug overdoses and reducing harm. FTS are small strips of paper that can detect the presence of fentanyl in all different kinds of drugs and drug forms. FTS provide people who use drugs and communities with important information about fentanyl in the illicit drug supply so they can take steps to reduce risk of overdose.”

As of May, fentanyl test strips are legal in the state of Utah and can be accessed through Utah’s Department of Health and Human Services or Utah’s Syringe Exchange Network.

“These are preventable deaths when we lose these folks, they didn’t have to leave us. Any tool that we can give people to not be on that list of folks gone too soon is priceless to me,” said Dr. Plumb.

According to Dr. Plumb, even though fentanyl may not lead to higher dependency or addiction, it is so much more dangerous than anything else.