National Fentanyl Awareness Day was Tuesday, May 10, to alert people to the deadly dangers of fentanyl. I will cover this topic over several issues using my research on fentanyl, including interviews with professionals and families who have had direct experience in order to get their perspectives.
If you have been following me the last two months in The Fullerton Observer, you know that I have been writing about the immaturity of the adolescent brain and the risks that young people take. This can involve experimenting with drugs that are bought on the street. The major concern today is that fentanyl is made synthetically and often mixed with Xanax, cocaine, heroin, and other drugs. Kids as young as junior high school age are dying at an alarming rate of fentanyl overdoses. In the OC Register, the death count from fentanyl more than doubled from 2019 to 2020 from 165 deaths to 432. The fentanyl related deaths may top 1,000 in Orange County in 2021. Statewide deaths in the state of California have increased by 1513%, from 239 in 2016 to 3,857 in 2020. In California alone, there were over 10,000 deaths reported in 2021.
Fentanyl is 50 to 300 times stronger than morphine, according to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS). Forty percent of street drugs now contain fentanyl, according to Riverside County Sheriff, Chad Bianco (California District Attorney’s Office, 2022). Two mg of fentanyl is a lethal dose, but doses as small as 0.25 mg place the user at a high risk of overdosing. Four years ago, Delaware reported post-mortem detection of fentanyl in 72% of all overdose cases. Fentanyl mainly affects the respiratory system, which becomes overwhelmed and causes the user to stop breathing.
Not only is ingesting fentanyl extremely dangerous, but even contact can cause death. As early as May 2015, Chinese customs agents seized 100 pounds of fentanyl’s analogue, acetyl fentanyl, which was enough to potentially kill millions of people. It was stashed in a Mexico-bound container. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reported that six customs officials became ill, and one fell into a coma as a result of handling the fentanyl. The potential that others could have been infected because the fentanyl had been transferred through five different freight forwarders before arriving here at customs is alarming (Westhoff, 2019). The NCDAS reported that almost 60 million lethal doses were confiscated by the DEA over a 2-year period.
In the United States, according to The San Francisco Chronicle, an infant died in northern California sleeping in the parents’ bed where there were remnants of fentanyl. In another case, an online video of San Diego deputy David Faiivae, who was inspecting a car for drugs that contained fentanyl, also shows how even contact can be fatal. He would have died if it had not been for the immediate action of his superior officer who administered Narcan to Deputy Faiivae.
Several high-profile fentanyl deaths in the early 21st century include singerguitarists Prince and Tom Petty, rappers Mac Miller and Lil Peep, best-selling author Michelle McNamara, and Major League Angel’s pitcher Tyler Skaggs. Investigators determined it was unlikely the deceased knew or understood they were taking such a potent and potentially lethal drug (NCDAS).
Anne Milgram of the DEA said that many of these victims “have no idea they are ingesting deadly fentanyl until it’s too late” (San Francisco Chronicle). Large quantities are coming into the United States through Mexico from China, where 90% of fentanyl is made. The volume of fentanyl confiscated has more than tripled in San Diego at the Tijuana border, which in 2019 was 108 pounds and then in 2020 it was 384 pounds. In the first three months of 2021, DEA officials seized 2,000 pounds of fentanyl and 1 million counterfeit pills. By the end of 2021, they seized more than 15,000 pounds of fentanyl, “which is enough to kill every American,” DEA officials said.
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