Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid. There are a number of different analogs of the drug, but a typical dose of fentanyl is perhaps 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times as potent as morphine.
While fentanyl has been used to bolster the effect of illegal drugs since the late 1970’s, the number of overdose deaths from illegal drugs (including fentanyl) began to skyrocket around 20 years later. Between 1999 and 2015, the number of deaths from drugs overdoses increased from around 8,000 to more than 33,000. In 2018, fentanyl was implicated in about half the 1,106 overdose deaths in Arizona. And in the year between the spring of 2020 and the spring of 2021, there were over 100,000 overdose deaths from fentanyl and other drugs nationwide.
A recent article by a physician at the University of Massachusetts Medical School points to some of the reasons why fentanyl has played such a large role in the increase in overdose deaths from illegal drugs. Among those reasons is the fact that the high potency of fentanyl allows drug dealers to use just a small amount of the drug, adding a bulking agent such as baking soda, and thereby increasing their supply without any significant increase in cost. But fentanyl is so potent that just a small amount of the drug can lead to deadly consequences for the user.
The article also mentions a number of ways to try to prevent fentanyl overdose deaths. One is making naloxone (which can reverse an overdose by blocking the effect of opioids) more readily available. It also suggests that the increasing the availability of fentanyl testing strips, which would show the presence of the drug which would otherwise be unknown to the user.
In our blog from June of 2021, we addressed the issue of fentanyl testing strips. We noted that fentanyl testing strips were within the definition of “drug paraphernalia,” possession of which was illegal in Arizona. A new law removed fentanyl testing strips from the prohibition contained in the statute, in the hope that it will help reduce the number of fentanyl overdose deaths.
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