The COVID pandemic continues to exact an enormous physical, economic, and emotional toll on people across America. The emergence of yet another variant before the holidays has led to a lot of uncertainty. It has also exacerbated another crisis — the opioid crisis.
For many the holiday season and New Year’s is a time for celebration, but for some it can be period of stress and anxiety. The COVID pandemic has led to a dramatic increase in “deaths of despair” from suicide, overdoses and alcoholism. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated over 100,000 Americans died from drug overdoses 12-month period ending in November, a 30 percent increase from the year before, and the highest number on record. The majority of those preventable deaths involved a synthetic opioid, especially fentanyl — disproportionately impacting our youth.
Fentanyl is by far the number one drug threat in the United States. It is 50 times more powerful than heroin, and even a tiny dose — less than a grain of salt — can be fatal. It is also everywhere. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, over a quarter of all counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl contain a lethal dose. Routinely encountered in every corner of America, fentanyl has infiltrated big cities and small towns, and while it is sometimes abused on its own, it is more often mixed with other substances, such as heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine. In rare cases, it has even been found in marijuana.
But perhaps the most concerning development has been fentanyl pressed into pill form. These counterfeit pills resemble prescription opioids that appeal to a user base that associates pills with medicine. In fact, these pills are better thought of as a death wish. They are manufactured in makeshift labs, dirty garages and musty basements, and they contain wildly different doses of fentanyl and other substances. The truth is, nobody knows what’s in them, including the dealers, which leads to predictably tragic results. As a result, unfortunately, it is becoming more and more common to hear heartbreaking stories from parents of promising young students in high school or college that took a single counterfeit pill, overdosed, and died. It is quite literally a game of Russian roulette.
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