In recent years, fentanyl has become the predominant adversary in the opioid epidemic. Fentanyl and fentanyl analogues can be deadly in very small doses because of their powerful effects. The chemical composition of fentanyl also makes it much easier to traffic than other drugs, allowing it to saturate the illicit drug market across the country.
Fentanyl has compounded the devastation of the opioid epidemic, now present in roughly 75% of all deadly drug overdoses in the United States. In acknowledgement of Fentanyl Awareness Day on May 9th, Spectrum Health Systems examines some of the latest developments in the fentanyl crisis.
How Xylazine is Making a Deadly Drug Even Deadlier
Why is fentanyl so dangerous? One of the most concerning recent trends to emerge from the ongoing opioid epidemic is the appearance of a substance that’s not an opioid at all. Xylazine, which is also known as “Tranq” on the street, is a powerful sedative approved only for veterinary uses. Xylazine-laced fentanyl has been seized by the DEA in 48 states, and the DEA’s laboratory found xylazine in roughly 23% of all fentanyl powder and 7% of all fentanyl pills seized in 2022.
There are several factors that make this compound of drugs especially dangerous. Firstly, xylazine can cause users to develop necrotic skin ulcers which can lead to the amputation of limbs. Additionally, because xylazine is not an opioid, Narcan does not reverse its effects. However, experts still recommend that Narcan always be administered to someone experiencing a potential opioid overdose.
Narcan Remains an Important Line of Defense Against Fentanyl Overdoses
Even though Narcan can be less effective with certain fentanyl analogues and drugs like xylazine, it is still a crucial tool in the fight to stop overdoses. Earlier this year, the FDA approved Narcan (the brand name for naloxone) for over-the-counter (OTC) sale. This move increased the availability of this life-saving drug, allowing anyone to purchase Narcan and keep it in their home.
Developments like these are promising, but there is still more progress to be made. While Narcan is available, its price remains too high for many of the people that need it. The maker of Narcan OTC, Emergent BioSolutions, recently announced that it would be selling the medication for “less than $50” per kit. Though $50 is more affordable than what Narcan typically cost before its OTC approval, clinicians and treatment professionals have criticized the price, stating that it is too high for many of the populations that will need it, such as teens and people experiencing homelessness.
Taking Active Measures Against the Risks of Fentanyl
Along with Narcan availability, the accessibility of fentanyl test strips is also the subject of ongoing scrutiny. Many people in the treatment space feel that fentanyl test strips should be freely available to distribute, as they could help those using opioids avoid the risks of accidental fentanyl exposure. However, fentanyl test strips remain tied up in legal complications.
In lieu of federal changes, some states have moved to decriminalize fentanyl test strips, but change remains necessary on a federal level to broaden their availability. As fentanyl takes an increasingly deadly toll on our communities, it’s vital that we continue to devote resources to reducing harm and making treatment more accessible.
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction or a substance use disorder, call Spectrum Health Systems today at 1-877-MyRehab.