Fentanyl overdoses have increased by 75 percent in Missouri since 2019, and 2023 is on track to be another record year.
The drug is up to 50 times more powerful than heroin and far cheaper to produce. A dose as small a grain of salt can cause a fatal overdose. It also can be spliced into various drugs to make counterfeit pills that can be fatal.
Counterfeit pills often are disguised as legitimate prescription drugs such as Oxycontin, Xanax, Vicodin, Adderall and Percocet and are increasingly culprits in fentanyl overdoses. Overdoses can occur when victims believe they are using cocaine or pill-based drugs that don’t usually prove fatal, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
“Fentanyl is killing Americans at an unprecedented rate,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said. “Drug traffickers are driving addiction and increasing their profits by mixing fentanyl with other illicit drugs. Tragically, many overdose victims have no idea they are ingesting deadly fentanyl until it’s too late.”
Last year, Oak Park High School sophomore Ethan Everley, died days after taking a pill laced with fentanyl.
Amy Palmer, an emergency responder who works at Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services, said she’s seen overdoses across all ages, races and socioeconomic classes. Emergency services typically will know a “bad batch” has hit town because of a sudden burst of overdose calls, she said.
Palmer also works as an educator with the University of Missouri-St. Louis Addiction Science team and recently led a 45-minute class to teach participants how to administer naloxone, a synthetic drug that inhibits opiate receptors in the nervous system while reversing adverse effects. Save-a-Life training is often attended by people with no background in emergency medical aid, or “good Samaritans,” said Heather Harlan, who also has been an instructor. She said family members and friends of those with substance use disorder seek out the class.
“We don’t ask questions — they get training and they get naloxone,” she said. “We too casually say that `this is a choice’ and dismiss the problem as a moral failing. When people ask me, `well, why do people use drugs? Pain is why.”
Sarah Boyd, with the Clay County Sherriff’s Office says taking drugs of any kind are dangerous but Fentanyl is a unique killer. In response to Everyley’s 2022 death, she stated, “You have a better chance of surviving Russian roulette than you do taking one of these pills.”
–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice