With fentanyl, addiction problems in the US related to opioid-based painkillers have just got more dangerous. This highly potent painkiller prescribed by doctors for treating cancer is now being produced illegally and rolled out on the streets to deliver a super high that often leads to death. While this drug has been around way back the 1960s soothing pain in cancer patients, it can also kill, with the most recent, popular case involving the death of American songwriter, singer, record producer, multi-instrumentalist and actor, Prince. Now, recreational users are learning that this drug causes an effect that is very easy to overdose on.
Natasha Butler, a mother, has shared how fentanyl has ruined her life, when it caused the death of her only son, Jerome. Having never heard of the substance, she was baffled when doctors told her that her son died from an overdose of it, which is revealed to be 50x stronger than heroin and 100x more potent than morphine. She said that Jerome had never been prescribed with the drug, though shared that Jerome was given by an acquaintance what he thought was a Norco pill, which is a less potent painkiller also based on opioid, but actually contained fentanyl.
Jerome was just one of the ten people who died in just a short period of 12 days in March from pills containing such a substance, contributing to a sudden rise of deaths in Sacramento County, California. Now, investigators are still tracing the source, with similar incidents of overdose involving fentanyl occurring across the US.
Pointing out the potency of the drug, San Francisco-based Special Agent John Martin from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said, “Just micrograms can make a difference between life and death. It’s that serious. All you have to do is touch it. It can be absorbed through the skin and the eyes.” He added that this prolific killer is so potent that when law enforcers try to seize it, they have to be in level-A hazmat suits, which are the same kind of gear worn by healthcare workers to avoid being contaminated by the Ebola virus.
Forensic scientist Terry Baisz also shared her concerns about fentanyl being commonplace in her community today, even surprised by the similarity of the drug’s appearance to those being sold by pharmaceutical firms. “They look like what you’re getting from the pharmacy,” she said. “I was shocked the first time I tested this stuff and it came back as fentanyl. We hadn’t seen it before 2015 and now we’re seeing it a lot.” Since the drug has made its way to Orange County, it has been causing the deaths of many people.
Another official who was alarmed by the trend, that she had to get involved, is California State Senator Patricia Bates. Commenting on the lethality of fentanyl, she said, “Two minutes, and you could be in respiratory arrest and be dead. It’s kind of like, get high and die.” She has learned these details as related overdose deaths started rising in areas she is representing, particularly South Orange County. Now, she is trying to pass a bill that places heavier penalties on those selling the drug at high volumes.
Eliza Wheeler, project manager of the Drug Overdose Prevention and Education (DOPE) Project in San Francisco, California is also helping get the word out on the streets about fentanyl. She said that many people do not know about the drug, and her campaign will spread awareness and help people avoid the lethal consequences they get from it.