Created in 1960 by a physician named Paul Janssen, fentanyl is a powerful opioid medication used to relieve pain. Opioids, which get their name from the opium plant, are a class of medications that are very effective at relieving pain but also present a high risk for addiction. Fentanyl is one of the most powerful of these medications. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fentanyl is 80 times more potent than morphine and hundreds of times more potent than pure heroin. When ingested, the drug produces powerful feelings of pleasure, relaxation, and euphoria, making it a tempting target for abuse.
Rates of opioid abuse are increasing across the country at an alarming rate, and the Bay Area is by no means immune to this dangerous trend. In April of 2016, the Los Angeles Times reported that 14 people in the Sacramento area fatally overdosed, and the drug is working its way up to San Francisco. One of the roots of the problem is that individuals are ingesting a drug that they think is Norco, which they purchase from dealers off the streets. But why would a person get prescription drugs on the streets?
As a person’s addiction to fentanyl and other opioids grows, it becomes more and more difficult to maintain an addiction for a number of reasons. First, a person’s tolerance to opioids grows, causing him or her to need more of the drug in order to experience a high. Second, opioids are carefully controlled and physicians are unwilling to write prescriptions for opioids if they suspect that their patient is abusing the drug. As a result, it becomes harder to acquire enough of one’s drug of choice to continue to get high, and a person must turn to other sources.
In the Bay Area, and across the country, individuals have begun selling pills that they claim are Norco, fentanyl, or other opioids. Unfortunately, however, many times these drugs are not what they seem. They are not pharmaceutical-grade (pure) versions of the drug that sellers claim them to be, and instead are often laced with harmful chemicals. In addition, some individuals will purchase drugs from these sellers thinking that they are buying Norco when in fact they are actually buying the much more powerful drug fentanyl. When they then go to take their normal dose to get high, the more powerful fentanyl results in a potentially fatal overdose.
Fentanyl overdose as a result of recreational use is responsible for thousands of deaths on the East Coast in recent years, and the drugs are making their way west and up into the San Francisco area. Pure, pharmaceutical-grade fentanyl making its way into drug dealers’ hands is dangerous, but when fentanyl is sold under the name of a less powerful drug, or when it is laced with harmful chemicals, the danger is exponentially greater.
So what can you and your loved ones do to protect yourselves? The best way to prevent fentanyl overdose is to get prescription fentanyl from a physician and a reputable pharmacy, follow the prescriber’s instructions to the letter, and if you are struggling with opioid addiction, get help. The best way to avoid an overdose is to simply not take the drug at all, or, if you have a prescription for it, use it exactly as directed.
If you are struggling with opioid abuse, there is no reason to continue putting your life at risk. Tens of thousands of individuals have been able to overcome opioid abuse, and you are no different. Do not wait. There is hope. Get the help you need.