Fentanyl: A Rising Epidemic

Opioid+Crisis+Concept%3A+High+angle+view+of+a+prescription+bottled+filled+with+pills+surrounded+by+more+of+the+same+tablets.

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Opioid Crisis Concept: High angle view of a prescription bottled filled with pills surrounded by more of the same tablets.

Introduction: What is Fentanyl?

In Americans 18-45, Fentanyl is the number one cause of death. Although it is tasteless, odorless and colorless, this deadly powder is being laced with opioids and killing well over 700 people a year in Colorado alone. The equivalent of four grains of salt could kill a person, yet the simplest countermeasures could save them. These action steps could just be the key to harm reduction in this circumstance.

Effects

The effects of fentanyl are very deadly even with the tiniest amount. It is known to be one of the deadliest drugs in the U.S. When you take fentanyl or just touch it, it can change your heartbeat and can cause hallucinations. “Fentanyl produces effects such as relaxation, euphoria, pain relief, sedation, confusion, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, urinary retention, pupillary constriction, and respiratory depression” . There are very few who overdose on fentanyl and survive. If someone does end up surviving after an overdose there still could be lasting effects on your physical and mental health. 

 

Countermeasures and Prevention

Preventing the use of drugs is a difficult task at times. It seems as if there is no other solution to the issue. There are many countermeasures that are able to give innovative and non-harmful solutions to the problem at hand. It is understandable that it will be a difficult and long task to recover. There are other ways to prevent drug overdose other than simply asking someone to “say no”. 

The use of Fentanyl test strips come in handy when making sure users are able to stay safe. They detect whether or not Fentanyl is present in any powdered substance or urine sample. Take a look at these perspectives on rapid fentanyl test strips as a harm reduction practice among young adults who use drugs: a qualitative study. By using these strips people are able to stay safe without having to risk their lives for the chance of laced Fentanyl. Denver has many places that are able to ship test strips at no cost at all to ensure that you are practicing safety, and you can visit safe locations like the Harm Reduction Action Center. There are many similar safe-needle exchanges in Denver to make sure that people are using clean needles and disposing of their dirty ones properly. They provide test strips and other free accommodations to make sure that if people use drugs, they are using them safely. Most pharmacies also sell test strips and Narcan for a low price. 

Another useful solution is Narcan, also referred to as naloxone. If there is any emergency where there has been an accidental overdose, you use Narcan as a nasal spray to contract the substance out of the victim’s nose. A study from Massachusetts has shown that there is a 93.5% of people who survive overdose when given Narcan. For more information read this article from CNN. Narcan is a safe and effective resource if the safety of others is in serious question. Both fentanyl test strips and Narcan are okay to carry. Don’t be embarrassed for wanting to keep the people you care about safe. Having a solution to harm caused by drug use is a great thing to carry if needed. You never know when you can save a life. 

Harm Reduction  

On the Continuum of Care from the Opioid Response Network, these countermeasures fall under harm reduction. Treatment for those who are actively using drugs can be difficult, and isn’t always an immediate option. Harm reduction is an important middle road to ensuring that people with substance use disorders (SUDs) can survive drug use and potentially recover. While taking opioids is still a high risk activity, test strips and Narcan can significantly lower the probability of death. Other resources are available to make drug use as safe as possible, such as sterile needles.

Destigmatization

Stigmas about SUDs run rampant in our society. People often believe that people with SUDs are dangerous, or unable to recover. This makes individuals that are using opioids less likely to seek treatment, and causes a greater divide between the individuals and the general population. One of the social steps involved in the harm reduction process is destigmatizing discussions around SUDs, so people feel safer seeking treatment. Simply having conversations about opioids and fentanyl can begin this process, but it’s important to use correct and neutral terms. 

Person-first language separates a person with an SUD from their drug use, and prevents dehumanization that could further alienate them from harm reduction and treatment programs. For example, instead of mentioning “addicts,” “users,” “abusers,” or even “reformed addicts,”  use language like “person with a substance abuse disorder,“or “person in long term recovery.” Instead of using terms like “clean” and “dirty” to refer to drug usage, again try words like “in remission” and “person who uses drugs.” To learn more about sensitive language when discussing drugs and alcohol, see The National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Destigmatizing opioid use is an important step in harm reduction for people with SUDs, but it’s also vital in making sure that everyone, regardless of if they use drugs or not, feels comfortable carrying fentanyl test strips and Narcan. Starting conversations with conscious language could save lives.

 

Conclusion

Opioids are nothing new, But the way everyday citizens handle them could be revolutionary. Carrying test strips and Narcan, understanding the effects of fentanyl and starting conversations around SUDs could be a new epidemic in the United States, one that could save thousands of lives from a deadly substance. 

 

 

 

Credits

Lily Atwell: Graphic Consultation, Research

Sophia Brown: Writing, Research

Lily Nuccio: Writing, Research

Teagan Tulley: Graphic Design, Writing, Research

 

 

References

Abuse, National Institute on Drug. “Words Matter – Terms to Use and Avoid When Talking about Addiction.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 29 Nov. 2021, nida.nih.gov/nidamed-medical-health-professionals/health-professions-education/words-matter-terms-to-use-avoid-when-talking-about-addiction. Accessed 2 May 2022.

 

Goldman, Jacqueline E., et al. “Perspectives on Rapid Fentanyl Test Strips as a Harm Reduction Practice among Young Adults Who Use Drugs: A Qualitative Study.” Harm Reduction Journal, vol. 16, no. 1, 8 Jan. 2019, 10.1186/s12954-018-0276-0.

 

“Harm Reduction Action Center.” Harm Reduction Action Center, www.harmreductionactioncenter.org/. Accessed 2 May 2022.

 

Kounang, Nadia. “Naloxone Reverses 93% of Overdoses, but Many Recipients Don’t Survive a Year.” CNN, 30 Oct. 2017, www.cnn.com/2017/10/30/health/naloxone-reversal-success-study/index.html. Accessed 2 May 2022.

 

“Opioid Response Network.” Opioidresponsenetwork.org, 2019, opioidresponsenetwork.org/. Accessed 4 May 2022.

 

 “Surgeon General: Destigmatizing Addiction Will Help Combat Opioid Epidemic.” Www.ishn.com, www.ishn.com/articles/109410-surgeon-general-destigmatizing-addiction-will-help-combat-opioid-epidemic. Accessed 4 May 2022.

 

United States Drug Enforcement Administration. “Fentanyl.” Dea.gov, 2000, www.dea.gov/factsheets/fentanyl. Accessed 2 May 2022.