Drug Overdose Amidst the Covid-19 Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic made the nation’s drug overdose and death epidemic worse. Every state has reported increases in drug overdoses during the COVID-19 pandemic. One common theme is that the epidemic now is driven by illicit fentanyl, fentanyl analogs such as carfentanil, psychostimulants such as methamphetamine, and cocaine, often in combination or in adulterated forms. In addition, overdose related to prescription opioids and heroin remain high and also are increasingly adulterated with illicit fentanyl.
According to the data released by CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics , more than 93,000 individuals died from drug overdoses in 2020, a whopping 29.4% increase from the 72,151 deaths projected for 2019. This is the highest number of overdose deaths recorded in 12 months and the largest increase since 1999. These data are chilling. The COVID-19 pandemic created a devastating collision of health crises in America.
But as the Covid-19 pandemic recedes, we are still experiencing the drug overdose crisis. Opioid overdoses have been steadily worsening in the US for decades. The NCHS reported that deaths from opioid overdose rose from 50,963 in 2019 to 69,710 in 2020. The year 2020 has been an incredibly uncertain and stressful time for many individuals, and there is an increase in drug consumption, difficulty in accessing life-saving treatments for substance use disorders, and a tragic rise in drug overdose deaths.
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What is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. It is a prescription drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) , typically used to treat people with severe pain, especially after surgery. Fentanyl addiction can depress the respiratory system to the point of failure, leading to a fatal fentanyl overdose. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH) , fentanyl may be habit-forming. Taking certain medications with fentanyl may increase the risk of developing severe or life-threatening breathing problems, sedation, or coma.
What You Need to Know About Fentanyl
The abuse of drugs containing fentanyl is killing Americans. Misinformation and inconsistent recommendations regarding fentanyl have resulted in confusion. If you suspect a loved one is struggling with fentanyl abuse, you need to learn some safety tips to help and protect yourself and your loved ones from the dangers of these drugs.
- Fentanyl can be present in various forms (e.g., tablets, powder, capsules, solutions, and rocks).
- Inhalation of airborne powder is MOST LIKELY to lead to harmful effects but is less likely to happen than skin contact.
- Accidental skin contact may happen during daily activities but is not expected to lead to harmful effects if the contaminated skin is promptly washed off with water. Do not use hand sanitizers as they enhance absorption.
- Slow or no breathing, drowsiness or unresponsiveness, and constricted or pinpoint pupils are the specific signs of a fentanyl overdose.
- Naloxone is an effective medication that rapidly reverses the effects of fentanyl.
How is Fentanyl Abused?
Fentanyl can be smoked, injected, snorted/sniffed, taken orally by tablet or pill, and spiked onto blotter paper. Fentanyl patches are abused by removing their gel contents and then ingesting or injecting these contents. Fentanyl patches have also been frozen, cut into pieces, and placed under the tongue or in the cheek cavity.
Illegally manufactured fentanyl is sold alone or in combination with other illicit drugs like heroin and other substances. In addition, it has been identified in counterfeit pills, mimicking pharmaceutical drugs such as oxycodone. According to the National Forensic Laboratory Information System, reports on fentanyl (both pharmaceutical and clandestinely produced) increased from nearly 5,400 in 2014 to over 56,500 in 2017, as reported by federal, state, and local forensic laboratories in the United States.
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Fentanyl-Laced Cocaine a Deadly New Threat
Fentanyl-laced drugs are behind a growing number of fentanyl overdoses in the United States. None of the users had intended to use fentanyl. However, their drug testing as well as their clinical presentation, revealed that they had been exposed to very high doses of fentanyl.
This drug is so cheap that the drug cartels have great access to it. As a result, fentanyl has been increasingly found in drugs seized by law enforcement. These illegal drugs include heroin and cocaine, as well as methamphetamine, ketamine, and counterfeit prescription pills.
Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin, and an amount equivalent to the size of a grain of rice can kill a person. This drug is so cheap, and the drug cartels have great access to it. It is a tremendously effective filler because it’s highly addicting.
Fentanyl has been making its way into both crack and powder cocaine. Unfortunately, we live in the middle of an opioid-naive population that is recreationally using cocaine and not realizing how prevalent fentanyl is. Because of this, the American Medical Association is urging policymakers and stakeholders to expand sterile needle and syringe exchange services programs, decriminalize drug checking supplies (e.g., fentanyl test strips), and urge manufacturers to make naloxone available over the counter.
Naloxone is a medicine that can treat a fentanyl overdose when given right away. It works by rapidly binding to opioid receptors and blocking the effects of opioid drugs. But fentanyl is stronger than other opioid drugs like morphine and might require multiple doses of naloxone.
For someone who experiences a fentanyl overdose, the time to death is shorter than heroin. We are talking about minutes instead of hours. Therefore, a person who experiences fentanyl overdose has a much shorter window in which their lives can be saved.
Anyone who uses drugs that may contain fentanyl, even occasionally, is at risk of a fentanyl overdose. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) , rates of overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone, which includes fentanyl and fentanyl analogs, increased by over 16% from 2018 to 2019.
Overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids were nearly 12 times higher in 2019 than in 2013. More than 36,000 people died from overdoses involving synthetic opioids in 2019. The latest provisional drug overdose death counts through May 2020 suggest an acceleration of overdose deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A fentanyl overdose can overwhelm the central nervous system, disrupting the pathways that control heart function and breathing. Many people who overdose on fentanyl will fall asleep and never wake up. If someone at risk of a fentanyl overdose is breathing exceptionally shallow or slow, this is a warning sign that he or she may have overdosed.
Additional signs of a fentanyl overdose include the following:
- Inability to talk
- Difficulty walking
- Constricted pupils
- Blue-tinted skin from lack of oxygen
Combining fentanyl with alcohol, benzodiazepines, or other opioids like heroin that have a similar effect on the central nervous system makes the risk of overdose even greater.
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What to Do in Case of a Fentanyl Overdose
- Call 911 for medical help.
- Give naloxone if you have it. Spray Narcan Nasal Spray into one nostril, or inject intramuscular naloxone into the upper arm or thigh.
- Naloxone (brand name: Narcan) is a medication that reverses the effects of fentanyl overdose. It became legal to carry naloxone in New York State in 2006.
- If the person is not breathing, do rescue breathing (mouth-to-mouth) or CPR if you know how.
- Wait two minutes for the person to respond. Continue rescue breathing (or CPR if you are trained). If the person does not respond after two minutes, give a second dose of naloxone.
- Lay the person on their side in the rescue position, so they do not choke if they vomit.
- Wait for help to arrive.
Warning Signs of Fentanyl Addiction
The side effects of fentanyl, as well as fentanyl overdose, as aforementioned, come on immediately upon using the drug. When mixed with street-sold substances, their potency, effects, and potential dangers are even more increased. If you believe a loved one is abusing fentanyl, or any drugs that could possibly contain fentanyl, take action and seek professional help immediately. A fentanyl overdose can cause a person to stop breathing; with fentanyl, this effect happens quickly.
Symptoms of fentanyl abuse can include:
- Constant headaches
- Respiratory complications
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Irregular heartbeat
Regular fentanyl abuse can cause:
- Respiratory depression
- Tolerance and addiction
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Fentanyl detox is the medically assisted withdrawal from fentanyl for optimal safety and comfort. Detox should be done as part of an overall recovery plan. It is important to remember that recovery from substance addiction takes much more than simply ending drug use. The underlying causes of the addiction and the mental illness from the addiction itself must be addressed for the best chances of a successful recovery.
Benefits of An Inpatient Fentanyl Addiction Treatment and Detox Program:
- 24/7 medical observation
- Luxury facilities & amenities
- Medication assistance for withdrawal symptoms
- Nutritional supplements provided to support detox
- Access to alternative detox therapies
Find the Right Treatment Plan at We Level Up NJ
The inpatient treatment approach works best as it aims to change the person’s behaviors. Also, help them establish social support systems and better methods of coping with stress. A person will likely experience many different side effects from their drug use. These side effects may be emotional, physical, or mental. For example, someone in withdrawal will likely experience many uncomfortable feelings and negative thoughts about life during the process of detox. Unfortunately for those with dependency, detox is an unavoidable first treatment step for fentanyl addiction and to avoid any possibility of a fentanyl overdose.
Please, do not try to detox on your own. The detox process can be painful and difficult without medical assistance. However, getting through the detox process is crucial for continued treatment. We Level Up NJ provide proper care with round-the-clock medical staff to medically assist your recovery through our Fentanyl Treatment Program. So, reclaim your life, call us to speak with one of our treatment specialists. Our counselors know what you are going through and will answer any of your questions.
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 NCHS– https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/drug-overdose-data.htm
 FDA – https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2009/020747s030lbl.pdf
 NIH – https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a605043.html
 CDC – https://emergency.cdc.gov/han/han00413.asp