Fentanyl abuse skyrockets in third wave of opioid epidemic

Fentanyl is widely considered to be the deadliest drug at large right now.

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Fentanyl is widely considered to be the deadliest drug at large right now.

America’s long-standing opioid epidemic has taken a new form in the recent fentanyl surge causing what the CDC refers to as the “third wave” of this epidemic. The first wave occurred in the 90’s, as doctors began prescribing opioids to patients as painkillers believing that they were not addictive.

These claims proved to be untrue as opioid abuse and overdoses began to increase exponentially. In 2010, the epidemic shifted into the second wave, with a new focus on heroin. Since around 2012 the newest face of opioid addiction and death has been fentanyl as death rates began to skyrocket.

According to The Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA], “fentanyl remains the deadliest drug threat facing this country.”

Fentanyl is a synthetically produced opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. While it is often found laced into other drugs it is not always found that way. When sold by itself, fentanyl can appear as a pill, powder, or chalk-like block. It can also be found as a liquid in nasal sprays and eye drops.

When students do illicit drugs they just do not know, and that is the scary part of it.

— Buena Resource Officer, Jamey MacLellan

The newest form that this drug is found in is rainbow fentanyl. This development is a targeted market towards children and teenagers with the bright colors and candy-like appearance. Fentanyl’s dangers have been masked behind the frivolous way it looks. 

“The pills that come in different colors and look like candy certainly bring a heightened awareness to me because I have two small kids,” school nurse Jennifer Cooke said.

This is similar to the marketing strategy that Big Tobacco uses to sell vapes to teenagers with fun flavors, such as cotton candy, and cartoon characters on the cartridges.

“I do not think it is right,” Buena’s School Resource Officer Jamey MacLellan said. “Even if they [drug dealers and companies] are trying to market globally, it is not being sold that way.”

Teenagers are typically still young and naive enough either do not understand, or are not concerned about the possible threats. With the new brightly colored rainbow fentanyl, it is easy to be misled and misinformed. Plenty of people are mislead  to take this drug anticipating a harmless enjoyable high, not realizing they are taking one of the deadliest drugs our country has ever seen, and wind up dead instead.

“You never know what something could be laced with,” MacLellan said. “When students do illicit drugs they just do not know, and that is the scary part of it.”

Because just two milligrams of fentanyl can be deadly it is impossible to know if a pill is laced or not with just the naked eye.. According to the DEA, fentanyl accounted for about half of all opioid related deaths in California in 2019. This put the death count at around 1,600 and since then overdose has only increased.

Oct. 19, 2022 an email was sent to VUSD parents and staff, calling to attention the recent fentanyl crisis within the United States in anticipation of the Halloween holiday. This email included educational resources regarding fentanyl use and encouraged families to discuss the dangers with their children.

As overdose cases continue to rise, it is important to know the signs. If you witness someone experiencing loss of consciousness, choking or gurgling on what appears to be nothing, lack of breathing, discolored lips, and/or constricted pupils, call 911.

However, it is important to know there are treatments available in the event someone is exposed to fentanyl. If there were to be an overdose on campus, SRO MacLellan has access to a medical opioid overdose treatment called Narcan. Narcan is a respiratory treatment that is designed to be used quickly and easily in the case of an overdose. 

With the overwhelming increase of teenage deaths, it is more important than ever to be informed of the dangers and prevalence of this deadly drug that is ripping through our country.