An organization raising awareness about the dangers of fentanyl, Families Against Fentanyl, asks the Biden administration to count fentanyl overdose and poisoning deaths the same way Covid-19 deaths are counted.
The group sent a letter to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra when the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) designated May 10 as National Fentanyl Awareness Day for the first time.
The letter calls on Walensky and Becerra to “publish usable provisional fentanyl fatality data within six weeks of death.” They note that the current lag of six months prevents experts “from anticipating coming trends, and from responding appropriately to the existing situation.”
The organization is pushing the Biden administration to publish data on the number of times a life-saving medication saves lives and reverses the effects of fentanyl poisoning called naloxone and data on other non-fatal fentanyl poisonings.
“The danger of it is unbelievable”
According to Jim Rauh, founder of Families Against Fentanyl, spoke of the dangers of fentanyl. “The danger of it is unbelievable. The cost of manufacture is super cheap. And we’re trying to stop the fentanyl poisoning of Americans.” He continued, “We’re trying to have influence over the CDC to be able to derive the data in real-time to see exactly what’s happening. This has become the number one killer of 18 to 45-year-olds, and that demographic is widening. We should be able to see what that is.”
The danger of fentanyl is a powerful, synthetic opioid that can be deadly in tiny amounts. Other dogs, including meth, marijuana, and heroin, are easily laced with fentanyl. According to the DEA, China and Mexico are the primary sources of the flow of fentanyl into the U.S.
According to experts, drug traffickers have been noticeably increasing the frequency of mixing fentanyl with other illicit drugs to create repeat customers and drive addiction.
According to Dr. Roneet Lev, former chief medical officer of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and emergency room physician, “We’ve been seeing counterfeit pills. [Fentanyl traffickers] buy pill presses, so it looks exactly like a Zanzibar or Xanax. And people think that’s what they’re buying, but they’re buying it not from a pharmacy. And there’s no Xanax in there. There’s fentanyl, and they’ve seen it even in marijuana products, vaping products. So really, anywhere people get drugs outside a pharmacy, they are at risk for fentanyl.”
U.S. overdose deaths have doubled in 30 states in the past two years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 64% of those overdose deaths are due to synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
Victims have died from ingesting fentanyl in illicit pills marketed as non-lethal drugs, or Xanax. Ingesting the dangerous opioid, unbeknownst to buyers, can cause overdose and death. U.S. fentanyl deaths have tripled over the past two years.
According to Rauh, “Now we’re seeing kids, middle-school-age, dying like crazy, and they’re in no way doing anything other than experiment. These aren’t drug users. These are just innocent people who are being allured to the temptation of risk for … excitement like any person does. And so, we’re pushing the government to give us real-time data so they can’t ignore what’s happening to us.”
A potentially lethal dose can be as small as two milligrams. According to the DEA, fentanyl is especially dangerous for someone who has not built up any tolerance to opioids.
Emergency room doctors are seeing overdoses and record fentanyl poisoning deaths first-hand. According to Dr. Lev, “I’m an emergency physician, and I’m going into work today, and I’ll … treat somebody who has an opioid use disorder and treat their addiction or treat their overdose and be lucky to do so because our medical examiners here in San Diego see two-and-a-half deaths a day from fentanyl.”
He continued, “So, I’m very jealous of the consorted effort that we’ve had on Covid, an infectious disease. And I would very much want to see the same type of methodology, approach, focus data on the issue of overdoses.”
Some members of Congress are calling on the Biden administration to label fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) to strengthen punishments for individuals and entities who distribute the drug.
“I think they should declare this a weapon of mass destruction immediately and have our military intelligence go after them,” said Rauh. “We can break the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act and go after the perpetrators in other countries. We can seize money. We can stop ships at sea. We can have a real effect on the supply.”
Around 30,000 people have signed a Families Against Fentanyl petition calling on the United States government to designate fentanyl as a WMD.