More and more, each day, fentanyl is everywhere, bringing death, destruction and sorrow to families throughout our nation.
What is fentanyl?
Fentanyl is the most widely used synthetic opioid in the world, used in medicine for palliative care, anesthesia and the pain of cancer.
Unfortunately, fentanyl is also used recreationally. It is being used to “cut” heroin and make it cheaper to produce. (Heroin’s cost is $65,000 per kilogram, while fentanyl’s cost is $3,500.)
Fentanyl is also being found in other drugs, making them lethal to the user.
In 2015, fentanyl was found in fake Xanax pills in California; in March of 2016, it was found in Norco, the pain medication; in June of 2016, it was mixed with cocaine in Connecticut. It has also been sold as ecstasy.
A recent, Feb. 16, 2017, article in The New England Journal of Medicine noted that “fentanyl was present in 89 percent of seized counterfeit OxyContin tablets” in Canada.
That same article noted that in a recent two-year period (2012-14), 41 percent of heroin-related deaths involved fentanyl.
There were enough opioid-related deaths in this country in 2016 to half-fill up an entire Major League Baseball stadium.
Fentanyl is powerful. How powerful?
I asked Lane Cook, M.D., board certified psychiatrist and the Chief of Psychiatric Services at Cornerstone of Recovery comprehensive rehabilitation center in Louisville. (Dr. Cook is also the founder and director of Knoxville’s Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Clinic for the treatment of severe depression.)
Dr. Cook noted that “fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine IV.”
Dr. Cook also shared that one version of fentanyl is “used in animal tranquilizers” and that version of fentanyl “is 10,000 times more potent than morphine.” Just two small milligrams of this carfentanyl, Dr. Cook noted, “can knock out a fully-grown elephant” and “drug-sniffing dogs have died from detecting it.”
How does fentanyl kill?
It kills within minutes per a Sept. 30, 2016, Science News article. Dr. Cook noted that fentanyl, like other opioids, kills by depressing the respiratory center in the medulla area of the brain. The feeling of having a paralyzed “wooden chest” is the external manifestation of fentanyl’s effect on the respiratory system. The brain’s respiratory center becomes depressed due to its decreased sensitivity to higher levels of carbon dioxide in the blood. Death can follow quickly after an overdose.
Fentanyl “can rapidly suppress respiration and cause death more quickly than other opioids,” per the recent New England Journal of Medicine article.
Fentanyl does not care who it kills … you, your partner, your child, your parent.
It kills the unknown, forgotten addict as well as the most famous of us.
I recently was able to obtain a copy of a 2016 death certificate from the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office, in Ramsey, Minn., on the death of a 57-year-old male.
There was only one cause of death: accidental Fentanyl toxicity.
The individual: the musician, Prince.
Philip Kronk, M.S., Ph.D. is a semi-retired child and adult Clinical Psychologist and Clinical Neuropsychologist. Dr. Kronk has a doctorate in Clinical Psychology and a post-doctorate degree in Clinical Psychopharmacology. His year-long internship in Clinical Psychology was served at the University of Colorado Medical School. Dr. Kronk writes a weekly, online column for the Knoxville News Sentinel’s website, knoxnews.com. He can be reached at 865-330-3633.