Fentanyl awareness raises as concerns grow


Connie Erdozain

Fentanyl can be put in anything, sometimes even disguised as candy tablets. If someone ingests fentanyl the result could be deadly.

Hannah Silver

The opioid epidemic has been going on since the 1990s, and according to the CDC, continues to increase. A rapid increase of deaths due to overdose skyrocketed in 2010 and more recently, an outbreak of Fentanyl has heightened concerns.

According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), fentanyl is a synthetic opiod 50-100 times stronger than morphine. Fentanyl is put in heroin in order to increase its strength, or make the heroin appear stronger. Many people are under the impression that they are buying herion, but they are really purchasing fentanyl. 

The American Hospital Association, said in recent times the CDC can confirm that there was a new 12-month record of overdose deaths, entailing over 100,000 lives lost from April 2020 to April 2021. It found that opioids like fentanyl were the cause for 65% of overdose deaths.

Susie Williams, an ICU Nurse who focuses on vascular access for patients, gives her insight into the medical factor of fentanyl usage. Williams has been a nurse for 48 years, 46 of those have been spent working at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

“We use fentanyl a little less frequently now,” Williams said. “Fentanyl is used mainly to control pain, but we use smaller amounts than we used to because we use it with other drugs.”

Ira Katz, RPh owns Little Five Points Pharmacy and works to educate the community about the opioid epidemic and raise awareness. The pharmacy was opened 39 years ago and has fought to enact change ever since. The pharmacy was also recently noted as a Champion for Opioid Safety by the Georgia Pharmacy Foundation

“I see my job as to educate and inform the public,” Katz said. “We want to make sure that everyone is alert and tests their products, because if something has been laced it could be 100 times more deadly.”

Fentanyl used in hospitals is safer as the drug can be administered in a controlled setting. However, using fentanyl outside of the proper environment can be fatal, and is more dangerous than many think.

“The addiction is not the issue, it’s the effect of the drug, and I’m sure most young people aren’t aware of that,” Williams said. “These are drugs that were meant to be used in a controlled setting, and when taken out of a controlled setting, they’re lethal.”

Naloxone, more commonly known as narcan, is a prescription medicine that is used to counteract the effects of an overdose. At the Little Five Point Pharmacy they have been giving out narcan for free, while also providing the community with recent access to fentanyl test strips for a small price.

“We have been dispensing thousands, and thousands of units of narcan for years,” Katz said. “Right around late May, early June of 2022, the governor began allowing pharmacies to purchase fentanyl test strips for distribution, some states still consider fentanyl test strips to be drug paraphernalia and can’t distribute it.”

Sophomore Henry Carter believes the school could benefit from teaching students and staff the risk of using drugs such as fentanyl and what to do if someone were to overdose.

“I think there can definitely be room to improve in teaching people how to deal with overdoses,” Carter said. “Many first responders carry naloxone, which can fix an overdose, but most people don’t know that. That should be included in health education in schools, especially because of the increase in prevalence of fentanyl.”

Junior Fiona Bray also believes schools should focus on teaching students awareness when it comes to drugs that are laced with fentanyl.

“By giving students more access to this type of drug safety, it helps people know the danger of it if they’re more informed,” Bray said. “Drugs can also be laced with fentanyl; so, learning and informing people about narcan is an effective way to teach people how to save someone in the case of an overdose.”

Katz tries to encourage his clients to purchase fentanyl test strips on top of getting narcan. It is good to be prepared and safe.

“If someone comes in for narcan, I also try and recommend that they get some fentanyl test strips,” Katz said. “We distribute narcan for free, but that’s not the case everywhere, and fentanyl test strips are very inexpensive.”

Carter thinks, to some degree, the outbreak is exaggerated for political gain. Although Carter is not an expert, he thinks it seems like some politicians care more about the opportunity to talk about fentanyl than actually basing their positions in reality.

“I think there are definitely some politicians that want to take advantage of people’s fear about this issue by hyping up the crisis more than it should be,” Carter said. “This kind of rhetoric promotes xenophobia, because it makes people scared certain groups of people normally associate with drug cartels and fentanyl, which is damaging to some communities.”

Williams explains the effects fentanyl can have on an ICU patient and the difficulties that come with using it in a medical environment.

“Fentanyl has more narcotic properties that produce withdrawal if someone is on it for long periods of time,” Williams said. “Very high-dose morphine is essentially what fentanyl is.”

For the younger population, fentanyl is highly dangerous, and there is limited education on knowledge for drugs such as these.

“In the pediatric population, it’s very dangerous because any narcotic is easy to get addicted to, but fentanyl is a respiratory suppressor, so you’ll die,” Williams said. “Fentanyl will markedly decrease your respiration, and it’s deadly, narcan reverses fentanyl.” 

Bray shares concern for the current opioid epidemic and how giving people direct access to tools for solutions against these dangers will be beneficial.

“Hopefully it will allow people’s awareness to grow by increasing accessibility to narcan and also just overall fentanyl testing kits,” Bray said.