Fentanyl has gained the attention of countless news sources in the past few years. In fact, this year dawned the first official Fentanyl Awareness Day, which took place on May 10, 2022. The official website created to promote the day states that this issue is so important because of the alarming death rates directly attributed to fentanyl. However, fentanyl is not only a deadly drug for those who participate in illicit drug use. It also is becoming a deadly substance that is impacting our environment at large. Here’s how.

What Is the Fentanyl Problem?

Fentanyl is a narcotic medication part of the opioid drug class, alongside other widely known opioids like heroin, OxyContin, and morphine. However, this drug is an absolute powerhouse. Depending on its dosage, fentanyl is upward of 100 times more potent than morphine, and it only takes 2 mg to 3mg of fentanyl to be considered lethal to the average person.

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), 42% of pills tested for fentanyl had a lethal amount, and 1 kilogram of distributed fentanyl can kill half a million people. Because of this, fentanyl is the leading cause of death for all drug overdoses in the United States. To put it another way, fentanyl overdose is the leading cause of death for adults aged 18-45 in the United States.

These statistics are less than troubling. They can be outright frightening for those of us already concerned about the rate of drug use nationwide. Fentanyl is a favorite drug of choice for creating counterfeit pills or a mixture of entirely different drug types, such as the benzodiazepine Xanax. Drug mixing is dangerous enough for users to do it intentionally. But when this occurs by deception or false marketing of street pills, it is no wonder why overdose deaths are on the rise at incredible rates.

Blackboard with the chemical formula of Fentanyl
Fentanyl is not only a deadly drug for those who participate in illicit drug use. It also is becoming a deadly substance that is impacting our environment at large. Image: Blackboard with the chemical formula of Fentanyl on Deposit Photos

More Than Drug Users Are at Risk

However, the fentanyl issue goes beyond drug use in general. Reports related to fentanyl exposure have also gained widespread traction over the past few years. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security released the proceedings from a meeting related to fentanyl exposure with 18 recommendations for first responders.

Among these recommendations include wearing proper protective equipment to avoid contact with fentanyl residue and a bold, italicized section with a warning to avoid personal use of all alcohol-based hand sanitizers, alcohol wipes, liquid bleach, and bleach wipes.

The reason for these recommendations is twofold. First, a person using illicit substances cannot see, smell, or taste fentanyl. This also means fentanyl exposure is a high risk for others who come into contact with the person and the environment where the drug is. To be safe, the environment must be considered contaminated if there is any possibility of such. But secondly, this regulation is meant to protect against accidental exposure from unintentional circumstances.

Wipes and hand sanitizer are generally used to clean and disinfect ourselves from germs and unclean surfaces. However, in the name of staying clean, these actions can actually put us in harm’s way. This is because alcohol and bleach-based cleaners can increase our skin’s absorption rate. If fentanyl exposure is suspected, soap and water is the safer option to use. But this concern is not limited to first responders who enter “ground zero” of fentanyl.

This is now happening in all sorts of public places and on various surfaces, including dollar bills. At the close of 2021, a high school student was arrested in Tennessee after their vape pen was found to contain fentanyl. The school nurse and two resource officers were exposed to the drug and required medical treatment of naloxone. Also, in Tennessee, authorities warned of folded dollar bills that were used to hold fentanyl. Two separate instances included folded bills at a local gas station in Perry County with methamphetamine and fentanyl residue on them.

Life-Saving Information

Regardless of whether someone has come into contact with fentanyl knowingly by using the drug or if they were exposed and begin to bear the overdose symptoms, time is of the essence to ensure the situation does not become deadly. The first step that must be taken is to call 911 for medical help. First responders and medical facilities are trained to use a life-saving drug called naloxone, which can counteract the overdose effects of fentanyl and other opioids.

For fast results, naloxone is regularly given as a nasal spray or an injection. This was the drug given to those exposed to the vape pen with fentanyl in Tennessee.

Even after one dose of fentanyl, our bodies can develop an addiction to this powerful drug, and we can experience a range of withdrawal symptoms. This is especially true for people who use the drug knowingly. Suboxone is another drug used to treat people during an opioid detox, and it has promising results for many. While these drugs offer hope against the fentanyl epidemic, they are only part of the cure.

The big picture of dealing with the fentanyl problem requires us to develop a concern for the earth and for one another. Until this happens, drug syndicates will continue developing fentanyl and letting it loose on the streets, where both unsuspecting buyers and innocent bystanders will suffer from this deadly drug.


Kevin Morris

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