With his heart pounding, Officer Harrison approached the warehouse. His dreams of fighting crime never included this scene. He wasn’t chasing a fugitive; he wasn’t even trying to arrest anyone. The other officers had already taken the dealers down to the station for booking. Harrison simply had to go in and confiscate the remaining drugs.
The problem, however, was there was nothing “simple” about it. Covered from head to toe in a hazmat suit, Officer Harrison was about to come into contact with a huge stash of fentanyl.
The Deadly Rise of Fentanyl Abuse
Officer Harrison’s “level A suit” is the same kind officials used for protection against Ebola contamination. He was pretty confident he’d be safe, but he’d also heard enough horror stories about the power of this drug to make him nervous anyway. The captain’s earlier warnings still echoed in his head:
“Don’t touch it. You can easily absorb fentanyl through your skin or eyes. Just a few grains can kill you.”
Harrison’s captain isn’t alone in his warnings. This scenario is becoming commonplace. Aware of the potency of fentanyl, these hazmat precautions are now standard when law enforcement seize fentanyl.
Fact One: It can be absorbed through the skin…quickly.
Shannon’s doctor prescribed fentanyl patches to relieve Shannon’s breakthrough pain. The cancer had been attacking her body for two years and the pain could be unbearable. Shannon could wear the patch for two days and receive constant administration of the drug. After 48 hours, she threw the patch away.
Nothing seems wrong with this process…until we examine the last step. Shannon simply placed the patch in a waste basket. This might be okay in some situations, but Shannon has two small children and a dog. Discarded patches are still impregnated with the medicine and they’re still highly potent – even if they’re pulled out of the garbage days later. If little Aiden or curious Spot get their paws on the patch, it could be deadly.
Fact Two: Even the FDA has gone out of its way to convince people NOT to abuse fentanyl.
When Tom picked up his fentanyl prescription, he noticed something different on the label this time. On the box was a notice stating the drug had a new black-box warning. Since Tom wasn’t sure what this “black box” thing meant, he asked the pharmacist, who politely provided a medication guide explaining the risks of the drug.
Tom went home and looked up the manufacturer’s website, curious for additional details. His research revealed that the “black box” is the FDA’s strongest warning, and it cautions about the risk of abuse, addiction, overdose and death.
Fact Three: Abusing fentanyl or mixing it with other drugs can be deadly.
Gary was looking for a new, more powerful high. He decided to try fentanyl because he heard it was 100 times more powerful than morphine and 50 times stronger than heroin. He thought he’d hit the jackpot.
What Gary didn’t learn very much about were the potential side effects of fentanyl, including anxiety, dizziness, dry mouth, headache, nausea and vomiting. And he certainly didn’t know about the harsher reactions, like experiencing tightness in the chest, seizures, irregular heartbeat, trouble breathing and death.
Another key piece of information Gary missed was that fentanyl should never be mixed with benzodiazepines. This combo drastically increases the side effects of fentanyl and, unfortunately for Gary, he was already abusing Xanax. Fortunately, Gary’s roommate was home when he overdosed and administered a life-saving dose of naloxone when Gary stopped breathing.
Thousands of others this year haven’t been as lucky.
Additional Reading: Can a Label Really Stop the Abuse of Some Prescription Meds?
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