By now, most of us have heard of fentanyl. Fentanyl is an opioid drug that is so powerful a few grains can kill a person. And that’s exactly what’s happening; the drug is killing more people in the US than ever before. In fact, fentanyl is so deadly it’s become the #1 cause of death for Americans aged 18 to 45.
Fentanyl fatalities have increased by 49.4% in the last year, surpassing 64,000 deaths as of April 2021. Overdosing on the drug is also known as fentanyl poisoning, an incident that’s happening more among young adults in the US than suicide, car accidents, and even Covid-19 deaths.
But how could that be? We’ve been inundated with warnings about Covid-19 and kept up to date on the virus’s daily death count. But meanwhile, an even bigger problem has been brewing. And what could be bigger than the coronavirus outbreak? Addiction.
Sadly, addiction is still a massive problem in our country. It’s been roughly 20 years since the opioid epidemic began, with Oxycontin being unscrupulously pushed on an unsuspecting American public. Since then, we’ve continued to struggle to win even minor battles in the fight against addiction to fentanyl. And now, it could even be considered that the opioid epidemic is just beginning to peak, thanks to fentanyl.
Fentanyl comes in two forms: pharmaceutical and illicit. It is a synthetic opioid, meaning it is artificially created in a lab. Pharmaceutical fentanyl has been approved for treating severe pain, typically resulting from a terminal illness. The CDC reports that it is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, and pharmaceutical fentanyl is prescribed in the form of transdermal patches or lozenges. These medications are sometimes stolen or sold on the black market.
Illicit fentanyl is a major problem. The drug is synthesized in clandestine laboratories and smuggled into the US by the ton each year. By November of 2021, the US government had seized enough fentanyl to give every American a lethal dose. The problem has been labeled a national crisis that knows no boundaries and continually worsens.
According to a report from CNN, illicit fentanyl is often made to look like prescription pills and is available online and sold through social media. It has been seized in every state in the country. Fentanyl is also being mixed in with other illicit drugs to increase that drug’s potency. And it’s sold as powders and nasal sprays and is increasingly being pressed into pills made to look like legitimate prescription opioids. These counterfeit pills often contain lethal doses of fentanyl, with none of the promised drugs.
Unfortunately, the drug’s popularity has skyrocketed among drug traffickers for several reasons. Firstly, it’s cheaper to manufacture than other synthetic and non-synthetic drugs. This allows it to be made in bulk and purchased for cheap. Secondly, it’s so powerful that relatively small amounts contain many doses of fentanyl. This means getting more of it smuggled faster, which means more money. Finally, the drug is difficult to detect, making it even easier to get into the country and into the hands of often unsuspecting victims.
While the Covid-19 pandemic has killed more people than addiction over the last two years, the opioid epidemic has taken victims for two decades. Fentanyl poisoning is now the number one cause of death among young adults. Yet, all we see when we turn on the news, go to the doctor, call our bank, or check our email, is Covid-19.
We’ve shown a massive collective concern over one public health crisis while virtually ignoring another, longer-running and deadlier epidemic. This may be due to the stigma tied to addiction and the common belief that substance use disorder is a choice whereas Covid victims are innocent. This type of thinking places more value on one life than another, passively allowing the tragedy to continue.
The only way to handle the growing fentanyl problem is to first care about it. And while it may not be as sensational as a viral outbreak, addiction can still happen to anyone. Let’s start by realizing that it is happening now and for America’s young adults, it is far deadlier than Covid.