Synthetic opiates like fentanyl and carfentanil have hit the residents of Rhode Island hard, and more people are dying due to overdose involving these drugs than on heroin and painkillers alone. In response to the increasing crisis, Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin is asking that the RI Department of Health attach all synthetic opiates to the Uniformed Controlled Substances Act.
There are a number of problems with these drugs – issues that will likely increase the already dauntingly high numbers of lives lost to overdose that we are currently seeing across the state. Among them:
- Fentanyl and carfentanil are exponentially more potent than heroin alone. The smallest amount is deadly, so much so that law enforcement officers are taking extreme caution to protect themselves. Many have already been struck by extreme medical emergency due to exposure to these substances.
- It is impossible to tell when heroin is laced with the drug. Because such a small amount is so potent, drug dealers are adding it to heroin to increase the potency, but if a user inadvertently gets too much fentanyl in their dose, it can result in overdose. There’s no way to know before it’s too late.
- These drugs are more resistant to the opiate overdose reversal drug, naloxone, which means that for families that only have a dose or two on hand in an emergency or when too much of the drug is taken, there will be no chance of reversal even if people are on hand to administer the medication.
- Some long-time users of heroin are seeking out these drugs and/or heroin laced with these drugs in search of a more potent high. However, long-term use is no protection against the increased likelihood of overdose.
- Some drug dealers are using the synthetic opiates to make counterfeit painkillers and sedatives and selling them on the black market. These medications look exactly like the real thing but are a far deadlier drug than the user is expecting to take.
Wrote Attorney General Kilmartin in a letter to the RI Department of Health: “Unfortunately, Rhode Island continues to be one of the leaders in the nation in marijuana and illicit drug use. Even more disturbing, we have been in the eye of the storm of heroin, fentanyl and prescription opiate overdoses. While the State, namely your Department, has made great strides in providing naloxone, increasing recovery coaches in our emergency rooms, and expanding medical assisted treatment programs, the crisis continues to increase in complexity.”
For families who have a loved one struggling with opiate addiction – or addiction to any drug that leads them to buy their substance of choice on the black market – the fact that fentanyl and carfentanil are out there should be a cause for grave concern. Though there is little anyone can do to test for potency in advance or in any way shield someone with an addiction from exposure to these harmful substances if they are actively using street drugs, there is hope for the future via treatment.
The sooner that someone who is living with an active addiction to any illicit substance connects with treatment, the sooner they will remove the risk of overdose from their day-to-day life. This alone is a huge step. Following opiate detox with long-term comprehensive treatment and therapy will help to ensure that those who are struggling with opiate addiction stop all use of the drugs safely and completely, and continue to stay sober by learning new, healthy coping mechanisms to manage stress, boredom, and/or co-occurring mental health disorders.
Families can play a role in helping this come to pass for their loved ones by urging them to get help and connecting them with comprehensive treatment services that work.
In the meantime, as Attorney General Kilmartin says: “I am hopeful the General Assembly will take swift action on this matter during this legislative session, once introduced. It is vital we all focus on this emerging threat and take immediate steps to curtail its spread any further.”