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Alabama doctors went live on Facebook Wednesday night to discuss the dangers of fentanyl amidst a recent surge in overdose deaths.
Opioid overdoses topped the list of leading causes of death in the United States, surpassing vehicular-related deaths, in 2019.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 564,000 people died from opioid overdose between 1999 and 2020. One hundred eighty-seven people die every day from an opioid overdose. Forty-four people die every day from overdoses involving prescription opioids.
Widespread prescriptions of opioids began in the 1990s, and overdoses increased throughout that decade. The opioid crisis peaked in the 2010s with rapid increases in overdoses involving heroin. In 2013, overdoses rose again due to the introduction of synthetic opioids.
The year 2020 saw the most significant increase in opioid-related deaths, particularly one involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl and tramadol.
According to the Medical Association of the State of Alabama (MASA), fentanyl overdose deaths in Alabama rose 136% between 2020 and 2021. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents have seized more than 10 million fentanyl pills around the country between May and September.
"Fentanyl is the most dangerous drug on our streets, and it is everywhere," said MASA president Dr. Julia Boothe.
Boothe moderated Wednesday's discussion, which also included executive director of the Birmingham Recovery Center Ian Henyon, Dr. Darlene Traffanstedt of the Jefferson County Department of Public Health (JCDPH), former DEA special agent and consultant with the Drug Education Consulting Group Richard Tucker and executive director of the Addiction Prevention Coalition Carie Wimberly.
Tucker said foreign drug traffickers are funneling fentanyl into the United States in large numbers. They are found in illicitly manufactured pills that look like other pills like oxycodone and Xanax. However, some are designed to look like candy.
But the drug traffickers are not dosing experts, according to Tucker.
"There's always been a problem with illicit users in Alabama," said Tucker. "They haven't exactly known how to quantify power. It's a horrific drug. One hundred thousand people died last year. We're going to see more people die this year."
Tucker said that new opioids are also popping up on the market, such as Southwest Asian heroin, manufactured by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and an opioid called Nitazenes.
Traffanstedt said so far in 2022, Jefferson County has lost 283 individuals to overdose, around 80% of which are fentanyl-related. She said another 56 are expected overdoses.
"To be purchasing anything again that's off of the street that's not from a medical practitioner is just a dangerous thing to do," Henyon said. "When it comes to treatment, I don't think we get a lot of effectiveness from trying to scare people, but fentanyl is being cut into everything."
Henyon claimed he knew of three separate incidences involving cocaine and fentanyl overdose.
Traffanstedt said that cocaine users are less aware of the effects of fentanyl.
Wimberly referred to the fentanyl crisis as a "public health emergency." She said parents need to be informed about the dangers of fentanyl.
"What we encourage parents to do is to see education as power," Wimberly said. "When the kids realize what's really going on, they're much more likely to have those conversations."
The Addiction Prevention Coalition provides resources for parents and people looking to get trained to administer Narcan.
Narcan, or naloxone, is used to reverse the effect of opioids to counter a potential overdose.
Traffanstedt said there is no harm in using Narcan on someone if you think they are having an overdose. It will neither help nor hurt someone overdosing on substances other than opioids.
You can access the Addiction Prevention Coalition's resources here.
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