What is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that can quickly cause an overdose. It is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine, making it a major contributor to the 150+ synthetic overdose deaths occurring every day in the United States. Although its powerful opioid properties were originally developed in a patch form to help cancer patients manage pain or offer relief following surgery, it is now being diverted for abuse (Indian Health Service).
Why is it so dangerous?
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, “Illicit fentanyl, primarily manufactured in foreign clandestine (secret) labs and smuggled into the United States through Mexico is being distributed across the country and sold on the illegal drug market. Fentanyl is being mixed with other illicit drugs to increase the potency of the drug, sold as powders and nasal sprays, and pressed into pills made to look like legitimate prescription opioids. Because there is no oversight or quality control, these counterfeit pills often contain lethal doses of fentanyl, with none of the promised drug.”
In May 2022, Citizen Potawatomi Nation Health Services hosted a community overdose awareness event. Mark Woodward from the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics spoke on the panel and shared, “Now, almost every street pill or any other type of drug the department encounters - including cocaine, heroine, and methamphetamine — includes fentanyl. They look like any other pharmaceutical or illegal substance, or even over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol. The stamps are going to look just like U.S. oxycodone. They’re going to look just like U.S. Xanax, and you’re not going to be able to tell the difference.”
What is Fentanyl’s impact?
Tragically, even 2 mg (or 10-15 grains of table salt) of fentanyl is considered a potentially lethal dose. Melissa Baptiste, a loving mother and member of the Shawnee community, recently lost her son to an accidental drug overdose involving fentanyl. She bravely shares, “My son struggled with anxiety and depression, but he put on a happy face and didn’t show his hurt or pain. One day, he reached out to an acquaintance and turned to a substance for relief (like so many people do) not realizing that the pill he took had been laced with fentanyl. He didn’t intend to die. He made a mistake, and I am now left without a son.”
Between January 31st, 2020 and January 31st, 2021, overdose deaths overall rose 38.1 percent. However, overdoses deaths involving synthetic opioids (primarily illicitly manufactured fentanyl) rose 55.6 percent and appear to be the primary driver of the increase in total drug overdose deaths (Drug Enforcement Administration). Also in 2020, a recent article by JAMA Psychiatry highlighted that American Indian or Alaska Native individuals experienced the highest rate of overdose mortality. (41.4 per 100 000), which was 30.8% higher than that for White individuals.
2 mg of fentanyl. A lethal dose.
What can we do to protect our community?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Fentanyl test strips (FTS) are a low cost method of helping prevent drug overdoses and reducing harm. FTS are small strips of paper that can detect the presence of fentanyl in all different kinds of drugs (cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin,etc.) and drug forms (pills, powder, and injectables.) FTS provides people who use drugs and communities with important information about fentanyl in the illicit drug supply so they can take steps to reduce risk of overdose.” Thankfully, Gateway to Prevention and Recovery is a hub for obtaining FTS at NO COST. Please contact Abby Flood at email@example.com or 405-628-9553.
In addition, Naloxone (NARCAN) saves lives by reversing opioid overdose. It is a nasal spray that is convenient to store or carry and is quick and easy to administer. According to Dr. Julio Rojas with Citizen Potawatomi Behavioral Health, “Every individual, home, business, place of worship, school, and counselor’s office should have Narcan kits.” Thankfully, Gateway to Prevention and Recovery can help any community member or organization obtain NARCAN kits for NO COST. Individuals and families can obtain kits from any of Gateway’s Treatment Centers located in Chandler, Seminole, and Shawnee. Feel free to come by or call 273-1170 x0 for more information. For greater quantities, please contact Abby Flood at firstname.lastname@example.org or 405-628-9553.
Jon Greenwood, Gateway’s Executive Director, shares passionately, “Gateway’s vision is for every Oklahoman to Expect Hope. Resources such as Fentanyl test strips and Narcan kits are tools that every community member can use to keep our youth and adults alive long enough to seek recovery, healing, and wellness. Fentanyl is a daunting public health crisis currently affecting our community that requires a united, strategic, and unwavering response. I strongly believe we are up to the task…we have to be.” Please contact Gateway to Prevention and Recovery at 273-1170 x0 for additional resources and support.
Watch Dead on Arrival (fentanyl documentary). Content may be triggering to some viewers.
Alicja Carter, MHR, BHWC, has been working in the behavioral health and addiction treatment field for over 14 years at Gateway to Prevention and Recovery. Alicja is passionate about wellness and collaborating with others for the purpose of stimulating positive change in her community.