It’s one of the most lethal and potent opioids currently in circulation, and most recreational users don’t even know they’re taking it. For the past five years, New York City and surrounding areas have reported continued increases in overdose deaths from heroin and prescription painkillers. This year, however, the numbers are expected to hit a spike due to what many experts speculate is the increasing availability of fentanyl. In addition to being exponentially more potent than heroin, fentanyl is cheap and can be smoked, snorted or injected the veins. It is often mixed with heroin, cocaine and prescription painkillers and users are seldom aware that they’re taking it.
Although the anti-opioid drug Narcan has become more available and has been a viable resource in the reversal of potentially fatal overdoses, it has had little to no effect on victims who have consumed fentanyl. This is indeed a wake-up call for anyone who thinks they can be saved by Narcan; but don’t understand that they’re taking a drug that is entirely resistant to it. Officials, law enforcement and prevention advocates are expecting to see more than 1,000 overdose deaths across the five boroughs by the end of 2016, the highest number since the city started keeping these kinds of records over 17 years ago.
Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine and has been involved in more than half of NYC’s overdose deaths this year. In 2015 just 15 percent of the area’s overdose fatalities involved fentanyl. The drug is a schedule II prescription substance, and it is typically used to treat patients with severe pain or to manage pain after surgery. It is also sometimes used to treat patients with chronic pain who are physically tolerant to other opioids. More and more dealers and manufacturers are cutting their supply with the cheap narcotic unbeknownst to users. Prescription names for fentanyl include Actiq®, Duragesic®, and Sublimaze®.