All opioids carry inherent risks when abused, from illicit heroin to the OxyContin you may be prescribed by your doctor. Prescription drug abuse is at epidemic levels in the U.S., and when users can’t get high using their typical opioid of choice, previous experience shows that they’ll switch to other prescription opioids or even heroin. In this climate of widespread opioid addiction, new dangerous opioids like acetyl fentanyl pose immense risks to the population’s health. Experts have warned emergency physicians to be on the lookout for what appears to be ordinary opioid overdose, but might actually be attributed to acetyl fentanyl, a drug that’s five to 15 times more potent than heroin. Finding out more about this substance and its dangers helps you understand why public health officials are concerned about the upsurge in overdose cases.
What Is Acetyl Fentanyl?
Some readers may recognize fentanyl as an opioid medication, which has a potential for abuse in itself but is not the same as acetyl fentanyl. The latter is an analogue of the approved painkiller, meaning it’s chemically similar but a distinct substance, and it’s one that hasn’t been studied particularly well. Initial findings indicate that acetyl fentanyl is more potent than heroin, but is still used by intravenous injection as a substitute for heroin or other prescription opioids.
Mistaken for Heroin by Doctors and Users
Although the drug is obviously harmful in its own right, one of the big dangers associated with acetyl fentanyl is that it’s often mistaken for heroin. Users might be sold the substance and told it is heroin, or it may be mixed with heroin without the knowledge of the user. This means that even if the individual usually takes care to ensure he or she consumes a non-fatal dose, the presence of the stronger opioid could still cause problems. John Stogner, lead author of the study, said: “One of the many downsides of illegal drugs is you just can’t trust your drug dealer. The trend of adulterants being worked into street drugs to make them more potent is dangerous.” This issue isn’t confined to users, either, because doctors frequently make the same mistake when looking at symptoms in their patients. Since it’s the same type of substance, the symptoms initially appear to point to a heroin overdose – and it doesn’t help that users may also believe that’s what they’ve taken. However, when doctors come to administer the standard dose of the antidote for heroin overdose, naloxone, they come to find that it isn’t enough to help the patient. Because acetyl fentanyl is so many times stronger than heroin, doctors need to give a bigger dose of the antidote, too. This is one of the reasons there have been many reports of fatal overdose due to acetyl fentanyl.
Legal Loopholes for Acetyl Fentanyl
So why isn’t law enforcement coming down hard on people caught with or selling this deadly substance? It’s a reason familiar to anybody who knows about “designer” drugs and the legal problems they cause: analogues of controlled substances aren’t generally subject to the same rules as the parent substance. Although it’s considered to be illegal for human consumption, all suppliers have to do is label the drug “not for human consumption”—then it technically becomes legal to sell. It doesn’t matter if it’s obviously going to be consumed by humans (much like “bath salts” and “Spice” obviously were), law enforcement officials are stuck because the dealers are exploiting the loophole. Rectifying this is a priority, but until legislative changes take place, both doctors and users need to be aware of the risk posed by the substance.
Solving America’s Opioid Problem Is the Only Answer
The risks of acetyl fentanyl are particularly worthy of note because prescription opioid abuse is one of the biggest problems facing the U.S. Many Americans struggle with addiction to drugs like oxycodone and fentanyl, and the emergence of new, more dangerous opioids is definitely a cause for concern. When the abuse-resistant form of OxyContin was released, users flocked to other prescription opioids and heroin. If this same thing happened but users turned to the much more potent acetyl fentanyl instead of other opioids, the increase in overdose deaths could be staggering. There is only one solution to the problem, and it isn’t making all painkillers abuse-resistant, or any other “magic bullet” approach: it’s simply to help people tackle the addiction that’s at the root of it all. When one substance isn’t available, users switch to another because it’s the underlying issues – usually psychological in nature – that drive people to take drugs. A more potent opioid “ups the stakes,” in that more people will accidently overdose if users start taking it or are exposed to it through adulterated heroin. However, treatment for fentanyl use needed remains the same: identify the personal and psychological issues leading people to addiction and teach them healthier coping mechanisms.