As fentanyl drives overdose deaths, mistaken beliefs persist

Lillianna Alfaro was a latest highschool graduate elevating a toddler and contemplating becoming a member of the Army when she and a pal purchased what they thought was the anti-anxiety drug Xanax in December 2020.

The drugs had been faux and contained fentanyl, an opioid that may be 50 instances as highly effective as the identical quantity of heroin. It killed them each.

“Two years ago, I knew nothing about this,” mentioned Holly Groelle, the mom of 19-year-old Alfaro, who lived in Appleton, Wisconsin. “I felt bad because it was something I could not have warned her about, because I didn’t know.”

The drug that killed her daughter was uncommon a decade in the past, however fentanyl and different lab-produced artificial opioids now are driving an overdose disaster deadlier than any the U.S. has ever seen. Last year, overdoses from all medication claimed greater than 100,000 lives for the primary time, and the deaths this year have remained at almost the identical degree — greater than gun and auto deaths mixed.

The federal authorities counted extra unintentional overdose deaths in 2021 alone than it did within the 20-year interval from 1979 by 1998. Overdoses lately have been many instances extra frequent than they had been in the course of the black tar heroin epidemic that led President Richard Nixon to launch his War on Drugs, or in the course of the cocaine disaster within the Eighties.

As fentanyl positive factors consideration, mistaken beliefs persist in regards to the drug, how it’s trafficked and why so many individuals are dying.

Experts consider deaths surged not solely as a result of the medication are so highly effective, but in addition as a result of fentanyl is laced into so many different illicit medication, and never due to modifications in how many individuals are utilizing. In the late 2010s — the latest interval for which federal information is accessible — deaths had been skyrocketing even because the variety of individuals utilizing opioids was dropping.

Advocates warn that a few of the alarms being sounded by politicians and officers are unsuitable and doubtlessly harmful. Among these concepts: that tightening management of the U.S.-Mexico border would cease the stream of the medication, although specialists say the important thing to reining within the disaster is decreasing drug demand; that fentanyl may flip up in children’ trick-or-treat baskets this Halloween; and that merely touching the drug briefly may be deadly — one thing that researchers discovered unfaithful and that advocates fear could make first responders hesitate about giving lifesaving remedy.

All three concepts had been introduced up this month in an on-line video billed as a pre-Halloween public service announcement from a dozen Republican U.S. senators.

A report this year from a bipartisan federal fee discovered that fentanyl and comparable medication are being made principally in labs in Mexico from chemical compounds shipped primarily from China.

In New England, fentanyl has largely changed the provision of heroin. Across the nation, it’s being laced into medication resembling cocaine and methamphetamine, typically with lethal outcomes. And in instances like Alfaro’s, it’s being combined in Mexico or the U.S. with different substances and pressed into drugs meant to appear like different medication.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has warned that fentanyl is being offered in multicolored drugs and powders — typically known as “rainbow fentanyl” — marketed on social media to teens and young adults.

Jon DeLena, the agency’s associate special agent in charge, said at the National Crime Prevention Council summit on fentanyl in Washington this month that there’s “no direct information that Halloween is specifically being targeted or young people are being targeted for Halloween,” however that hasn’t saved that concept from spreading.

Joel Best, an emeritus sociology professor at the University of Delaware, said that idea falls in with a long line of Halloween-related scares. He has examined cases since 1958 and has not found a single instance of a child dying because of something foreign put into Halloween candy — and few instances of that being done at all.

“If you give a dose of fentanyl to kids in elementary school, you have an excellent chance of killing them,” he said. “If you do addict them, what are you going to do, try to take their lunch money? No one is trying to addict little kids to fentanyl.”

In midterm election campaigns, fentanyl is not getting as much attention as issues such as inflation and abortion. But Republicans running for offices including governor and U.S. Senate in Arkansas, New Mexico and Pennsylvania have framed the fentanyl crisis as a result of Democrats being lax about securing the Mexican border or soft on crime as part of a broader campaign assertion that Democrats foster lawlessness.

And when Democrats highlight the overdose crisis in campaigns this year, it has often been to tout their roles in forging settlements to hold drugmakers and distributors responsible.

Relying heavily on catching fentanyl at the border would be futile, experts say, because it’s easy to move in small, hard-to-detect quantities.

“I don’t think that reducing the supply is going to be the answer because it’s so easy to mail,” said Adam Wandt, an assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Still, some more efforts are planned on the U.S.-Mexico border, including increasing funding to search more vehicles crossing ports of entry. The bipartisan commission found those crossings are where most fentanyl arrives in the country.

The commission is calling for many of the measures that other advocates want to see, including better coordination of the federal response, targeted enforcement, and measures to prevent overdoses for those who use drugs.

The federal government has been funding efforts along those lines. It also publicizes big fentanyl seizures by law enforcement, though it’s believed that even the largest busts make small dents in the national drug supply.

The commission stopped short of calling for increased penalties for selling fentanyl. Bryce Pardo, associate director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center and a commission staff member, said such a measure would not likely deter the drug trade. But, he said, dealers who sell the products most likely to cause death — such as mixing fentanyl into cocaine or pressing it into fake Xanax — could be targeted effectively.

One California father who lost his 20-year-old daughter is pushing for prosecutors to file murder charges against those who supply fatal doses.

Matt Capelouto’s daughter Alexandra died from half a pill she bought from a dealer she found on social media in 2019, while home in Temecula, California, during a college break. She was told the pill was oxycodone, Capelouto said, but it contained fentanyl.

The dealer was charged with distributing fentanyl resulting in death, but he reached a plea deal on a lesser drug charge and will face up to 20 years in prison.

“It’s not that arresting and convicting and putting these guys behind bars doesn’t work,” Capelouto mentioned. “The fact is we don’t do it enough to make a difference.”

While some people killed by fentanyl have no idea they’re taking it, others, particularly those with opioid use disorder, know it is or could be in the mix. But they may not know how much is in their drugs.

That was the case for Susan Ousterman’s son Tyler Cordiero, who died at 24 in 2020 from a mixture that included fentanyl after years of using heroin and other opioids.

For nearly two years, Ousterman avoided going by the gas station near their home in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, where her son fatally overdosed. But in August, she went to leave two things there: naloxone, a drug used to reverse overdoses, and a poster advertising a hotline for people using drugs to call so the operator could call for help if they become unresponsive.

Ousterman is funneling her anger and sorrow into preventing other overdoses.

“Fentanyl is everywhere,” she mentioned. “You don’t know what’s in an unregulated drug supply. You don’t know what you’re taking. You’re always taking the chance of dying every time.”


AP journalists Lindsay Whitehurst in Washington and Kavish Harjai in Los Angeles contributed. Harjai is a corps members for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.


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