The Drug Enforcement Administration will observe Aug. 21 as National Fentanyl Prevention and Awareness Day. Fentanyl is the single deadliest drug threat to our communities across the nation we have ever faced and encountered. This powerful synthetic opioid drug is everywhere, from large metropolitan cities in the U.S. to rural counties and Bush Alaska.
It is an issue of safety, health and lost lives from these fentanyl poisonings. The term poisoning is being used instead of overdose. An overdose infers “too much.” It only takes 2 milligrams of fentanyl to be fatal.
Besides being everywhere, fentanyl is in everything from heroin, cocaine and meth. In fact, counterfeit pills labeled as Percocet, Xanax, Oxycontin and even Adderall have been contaminated with fentanyl. And four out of 10 pills have a potentially lethal dose. These counterfeit pills sometimes do not have the promised drug, but heavy metals, antifreeze, rat poison and methamphetamine.
I am urging everyone to be aware and spread the word in their communities and villages the dangers of fentanyl. It is “opioid roulette.” There are not any drugs or pills sold, stolen or traded on the street that are safe. In short, as the DEA says, “One pill can kill.” The only safe drugs or pills have to come from a physician or licensed pharmacist.
Fentanyl is claiming scores of lives across America every day. Fentanyl is continuing to drive the opioid epidemic. A staggering 67% of drug deaths are due to fentanyl. The CDC has reported more than 107,000 people in the United States died of drug overdoses and poisoning ending in death in January 2022.
Alaska reported the largest per capita increase in overdose deaths of any state by a significant margin. Alaska experienced a 74% jump in overdose deaths from 2020 to 2021. And we are on track this year to be just as deadly. Last year, the state Department of Health and Social Services reported that six out of 10 overdose/poisoning deaths in Alaska were linked to fentanyl. In addition, Alaska Native people have experienced more overdoses per capita than other ethnic groups.
Fentanyl is so deadly, a gram could kill 500 people. Unfortunately and tragically, many poisoning victims have no idea they are taking this deadly powerful synthetic opioid until it is too late. Fentanyl is now the leading cause of death of adults aged 18-45 in the U.S.
Nationally, we are seeing a youth dying every 11 minutes due to a fentanyl poisoning. That is more than 200 kids per day. They are purchasing these counterfeit pills online using emojis and they are delivered like pizza. We have to educate our youth through our schools, as well as their parents, about the dangers of illicit fentanyl if we are to reduce fatalities.
We have to acknowledge the devastation this drug has brought to thousands of families, loved ones and friends. I want to alert and warn all Alaskans about the dangers of fentanyl. We have to face this deadly drug and get the word out because enough is enough of fentanyl poisonings.
Please consider carrying a new Narcan kit with 8 milligrams of naloxone for an antidote to an opioid/opiate overdose and/or poisoning to save a life and potentially having a chance for recovery. Alaska Project Hope has these new Narcan kits available at ProjectHOPE@alaska.gov.
In addition, fentanyl test strips and medication disposal bags are available through Alaska Project Hope.
Michael P. Carson serves as vice president and recovery specialist at MyHouse of Mat-Su. He chairs the Mat-Su Opioid Task Force.
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