In 2020 alone, 64,000 people died of overdoses directly linked to fentanyl. According to CDC data from 2020 to 2021, "Overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids (primarily illicitly manufactured fentanyl) rose 55.6 percent and appears to be the primary driver of the increase in total drug overdose deaths."
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is almost 50-100 percent stronger than commonly prescribed opioids (painkillers) such as Oxycodone (Oxycontin), Hydrocodone (Vicodin), and morphine. The fast-acting, potent drug also lasts longer in the bloodstream.
Though a Schedule II controlled substance in the U.S., illegally manufactured fentanyl has been entering the country's illicit drug market for close to a decade. The drug is clandestinely made, mainly in Mexico, by drug cartels, with the base materials coming from China. But, the synthetic drug can be made in a laboratory anywhere, even in the U.S., by an adept chemist.
Fentanyl is usually and often mixed with other drugs, duping many users into ingesting it accidentally. It is also pressed into pill form to pass as prescription drugs to evade detection.
Although the United States has identified the import sources and the agitators of the current fentanyl crisis, very little can be done in cracking down on these sources, as they are beyond American jurisdiction. The drug's easy availability, low cost, and ease of camouflage have left many U.S. officials scrambling to find a way to curb the menacing drug.
The U.S. has the dubious honor of being among the world's top users of illicit substances, including prescription pills. The pandemic has only worsened the situation. The stress, isolation, and restrictions have caused many to turn to recreational drugs and opioids.
Aware of the situation and its stark potential consequences, the customs and law enforcement are working with their counterparts in Mexico to shut down illegal Fentanyl manufacturing units. Once inside U.S. borders, fentanyl is mixed into other street drugs such as cocaine and heroin, making it nearly impossible to seize.
While efforts are being made to raise awareness of the drug and its dangers, those in the field believe it is far from enough. The potency of the drug poses the most significant risk. Just a small amount, 0.07 ounces of fentanyl, cause certain death.
To prevent such tragedies, efforts are being made to give recreational drug users the ability to at least test for fentanyl in their drugs. Those working in harm reduction organizations believe the use of fentanyl strips could be a formidable way to decrease the likelihood of overdosing on the drug. At present, the strips are primarily only available online.
Those working with drug abusers see the fentanyl strips as another tool in the fight against the hidden killer. Currently, Rhode Island and Arizona have legalized fentanyl test strips. The CDC and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration announced that states and territories could use federal funding to purchase the test strips. Still, the uptake from many states has been sluggish, primarily due to the stigma attached to drug usage and the inability to lift fentanyl test strips from lists being qualified as "Drug Paraphernalia."
According to the latest Golden/TIPP Poll findings, of 1,301 American adults, the people want action. An overwhelming 71% wish to see fentanyl test strips available over the counter at CVS, Walgreens, etc. Only a small minority, 10%, are against such a move.
Easy availability and affordable rates would likely prompt many recreational users to test the drug before ingesting it. The safeguard alone could dissuade many from using contaminated or fentanyl-laced drugs.
While in no way meant to promote or condone drug abuse, the fentanyl test strips could drastically bring down overdoses and overdose-related fatalities in America. This small strip could save countless lives until more effective strategies are devised and implemented.
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