Posted on: May 12, 2022 Posted by: Kirsten Duffy Comments: 0

Graphic by Sarah Schudt

Editor’s note: If you or someone you know is suffering from drug addiction, please call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-662-4357. 

By Kirsten Duffy, JRN 111 Student

Mac Miller was a rising star as a rapper when his life was cut short in 2018 by a fentanyl overdose, leaving behind millions of fans as well as family and friends. Last month, one of the three men who supplied the deadly pills was sentenced to nearly 11 years in prison. He said he was a middle man and had no idea the counterfeit oxycodone pills were laced with fentanyl, according to a story in Rolling Stone.

The dangers of fentanyl are racing through the country, especially among young people, in part because many are unaware of how the deadly drug can end up in places they wouldn’t suspect, such as in fake prescription pills.

Rapper Mac Miller died of a fentanyl overdose in 2018.

“Among teenagers, overdose deaths linked to synthetic opioids like fentanyl tripled in the past two years, yet 73 percent have never heard of fake prescription pills being made with fentanyl,” according to a website set up to promote Fentanyl Awareness Day, which was last Tuesday.

Fentanyl overdoses are now “the leading cause of death among U.S. adults ranging in age from 18 to 45 — surpassing suicide, car accidents and even COVID-19,” according to the website.

The high costs of prescriptions leave people with other options like buying prescription drugs off the street, but at what cost? Fentanyl has more potency than morphine and heroin, and the smallest amount can lead someone to overdose or death. 

Fentanyl is an opioid pain reliever synthetically manufactured to relieve severe pain. It is a controlled substance used for medical purposes, but users can become dependent and abuse it.

The dangers of the substance are spreading throughout Cook County. According to a story in the Chicago Sun-Times in January, “The toll from opioids has been increasing since 2015, when there were 647 overdose deaths in Cook County. This past year’s total is expected to be more than 2,000 once all tests are back from suspected cases.”

Moraine Valley addiction studies professor Anni Rasmussen said fentanyl is produced and distributed illegally, and people do not need to go into the city to get a drug of choice possibly laced with fentanyl. Rasmussen said fentanyl can be laced into any drug, but it is most common in heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA, also known as ecstasy.

“I know fentanyl is a huge problem on the west side of Chicago and south suburbs,” Rasmussen said. “Fentanyl is very problematic for women who are abusing prescribed opioids. Once they run out they’ll start buying it illegally.”

Why fentanyl specifically?

 “Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times stronger than other opioid-based narcotics,” Moraine Valley police chief Patrick Treacy said. “So adding a little fentanyl, and cutting the product, will allow the dealer to sell the same amount of product, using less narcotic, and have increased profits.”

Criminal justice professor Brian Duffy says that people buy substances laced with fentanyl because drug dealers will sell it to them, and often a pre-existing addiction is there. According to Treacy, most people addicted to fentanyl became addicted to a different narcotic first. When someone is consistently using opioids they build up a tolerance.

“The user no longer experiences the same effect when taking the same dosage and/or the user finds themselves taking more and more to get the desired effect,” said Rasmussen. 

Duffy says that drug dealers know how to find their customers. Blue Crest Recovery Center says that dealers will often sell to people they already know, and word of mouth will typically do the rest.

“Drug dealers are lacing the substances they buy with fentanyl because it’s cheaper, available, and they are looking for more money,” said Duffy.

Where is it coming from?

The Drug Enforcement Administration released a report in January 2020 that said that since the fentanyl crisis of 2014, the flow of the drug into the U.S. has become more diverse. Mexico and China remain the two biggest sources, with India following close behind, but those are only a few of the countries participating.

China is the leader of countries producing all types of fentanyl products, while Mexico’s crime organizations specialize in tablets and pill pressing. Packages coming from China are often tested at above 90 percent pure fentanyl, while Mexico’s typically contain less than 10 percent of fentanyl concentrate.

“[In the U.S.] it appears to be manufactured in illegal laboratories,” Rasmussen said. “It is getting into the U.S. by means of vehicles, packages, and people. Identifying trafficking routes and drug cartels controlling it appears to be a never-ending task for the DEA, border controls, and other criminal investigators.”

How to help and how to get help

The U.S. provides treatment and rehab facilities through counseling to help people who are addicted. Medically assisted treatment centers are also available. Two of the best rated in the country are Banyan Treatment Center in Pompano Beach, Florida, and Maple Mountain Recovery in Mapleton, Utah.

In these facilities, some patients are given suboxone, which helps people who are struggling with an opioid addiction. According to American Addiction Centers, suboxone combines buprenorphine, which is a replacement drug for heroin and other opioids, and naloxone, which reverses the effects of illicit drugs on the brain.

“If a person believes they are struggling with addiction, almost any hospital has either a treatment program, a treatment facility or a network with organizations that can help a person struggling with drug addiction,” Treacy said. “Opioid-based addictions are tough and in most cases will require professional help.”

Rasmussen describes what it looks like when someone is overdosing. They may appear to be almost asleep, sound like they’re choking, have limp limbs and small pupils, and their skin may be discolored, especially on the hands and mouth. In an overdose situation, there are products that can be lifesaving.

Narcan is a nasal spray that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose in minutes. The receiver of the treatment does not need to inhale it for it to be effective, and there are no adverse effects if it is administered to someone that is not overdosing. If someone is overdosing, and Narcan is available, it is important to still call 911.

“The officers of the Moraine Valley Police Department carry Narcan, which is a nasal spray which can offset the effects of an opioid-based overdose,” Treacy said. “If you believe someone is overdosing, call 911. Most police officers have Narcan or a similar product, and an ambulance crew has other abilities. It’s important to know, in most cases, there are statutory protections for the patient in a situation where 911 is contacted.”

If you or someone you know is suffering from drug addiction, please call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-662-4357.