Deaths Involving Illicit Fentanyl

It’s hard to believe that fentanyl is sweeping across America, killing people at unprecedented rates. The influx of fentanyl into the illicit drug market is a major public health crisis. Many people who use drugs obtained on the street don’t know that fentanyl has been added to their drug of choice. As a result, they may unwittingly take a fatal dose.

The increasing number of fentanyl-related deaths in the United States

America is in the throes of a fentanyl crisis, with poisonings occurring at an alarming rate. These are not isolated incidents – they’re happening every hour, every day, in every county in America. And behind each one is a grieving, broken family. This is a national crisis that demands a coordinated, nationwide response. We need to provide treatment and support to those who are struggling with addiction, and we need to do more to prevent these deadly drugs from reaching our communities in the first place. This is a fight we can and must win for our families, society, and future.

What is fentanyl and how it is contributing to the opioid crisis

Illegally manufactured fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid similar to pharmaceutical-grade fentanyl but made without any regard for quality or safety. Because it is so potent—50 times more powerful than heroin—just a few grains can be enough to cause an overdose death. As little as 2 milligrams can be lethal. To put this amount into perspective, consider that a teaspoon of salt weighs about 6 grams—so 2 milligrams of fentanyl would be equivalent to one grain of salt plucked from a teaspoon. That tiny amount of powder can have profound consequences if it gets into your system—particularly if you don’t know it’s there.

Poisoning vs. Overdose

As the opioid crisis continues to evolve, the language we use to discuss the issue must also change. Unfortunately, professionals use the terms “poisoning” and “overdose” to describe drug-related deaths regardless of cause, situation, or intent. So, from a governmental reporting standpoint, fentanyl deaths are indeed called both “poisonings” and/or “overdoses.” However, confusing these terms often places guilt on the victim while removing any responsibility of the perpetrator.

An overdose occurs when a person ingests too much of a known substance, resulting in either illness or death. Poisoning is different because the consumer is being deceived. Many people ingest fentanyl, believing they are taking a single pill of Percocet, Xanax, or illicit drugs like cocaine or methamphetamines. They did not overused; instead, they were murdered.

When we use the term overdose, we are implicitly placing blame on the victim. We are saying they knowingly used much of a substance, and now they must face the consequences. However, when we use the term poisoning, we acknowledge that the victim was misled and did not know they were ingesting a lethal drug. By using the term poisoning, we are holding the actual responsible party accountable for their actions. Additionally, outdated language can lead to misunderstanding and judgment rather than empathy and understanding. By updating our language to reflect the current state of affairs, we can help to break down barriers and ensure that everyone affected by this crisis gets the support they need.

Addressing the fentanyl crisis

We can no longer stay silent. The fentanyl crisis continues to claim thousands of lives each year, and it is clear that our current approach is not enough to combat this growing tragedy. We must utilize every available resource to protect our citizens, especially young adults from this lethal drug; from protecting our borders to holding the nations producing these drugs responsible.

It is evident that our current approach to drugs and drug use is not working. Illicit drugs are easily accessible, and addiction rates are higher than ever. We need to change our approach in order to protect the public and save lives. Providing access to effective drug treatment, including medically assisted detoxification, is crucial. Nationwide awareness campaigns warning about the risks of buying drugs through the internet or the streets could also help to reduce drug use and the number of deaths.

Furthermore, mental health care should be available for all who need it. Too often, people turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as using drugs, when struggling with mental health issues. If we want to reduce drug use and deaths, we need to provide people with the resources they need to cope with stress in a healthy way. Finally, we must shift how we respond to death due to fentanyl poisoning by treating it as a homicide crime scene rather than an emergency medical call. With these changes, we can hope to make a dent in the fentanyl crisis and save countless lives.