by Beth Fishman, PhD, Program Manager JCFS Chicago Addiction Services
Overdose deaths are skyrocketing as a result of the devastating effects of synthetic opioids like fentanyl which are being unleashed by bad actors into the black-market drug supply. Now more than ever, psychoactive drug use can be deadly.
What is Fentanyl? Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. Like morphine, it is a prescription medicine that is typically used to treat patients with severe pain. But it is also made and used illegally. Synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are now the most common drugs involved in drug overdose deaths in the United States. Provisional data from CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics indicate that there were a record 100,306 drug overdose deaths in the United States during the 12-month period ending in April 2021. Approximately ¾ of these overdose deaths were due to opioids, primarily fentanyl.
Most who die from fentanyl poisoning are not ingesting fentanyl intentionally; they are unaware of the actual origin or composition of what they are taking. Fentanyl is being pressed into pills that are visually indistinguishable from legitimately manufactured and prescribed opioid pain pills. These counterfeit pills are sold on the street or online and can be delivered right to your front door. Individuals are dying from fentanyl poisoning after accepting what appears to be a legally prescribed pain pill from a friend to alleviate physical discomfort. Others overdose on fentanyl while knowingly using psychoactive drugs like heroin, methamphetamine, Xanax, MDMA, or marijuana…unaware that fentanyl has been added to the drugs.
Everyone is innocent in the face of fentanyl poisoning except for those in the illegal drug industry who create and distribute these deadly compounds.
There is no longer any room for error. Any experimentation, any first use, of many psychoactive drugs, can be one’s last.
What should we do?
Share this information with your loved ones and your communities. Tell your friends, neighbors, and networks. If you have children, talk to them…often. Research shows that parents’ attitudes greatly impact children’s choices about whether to use drugs. Prevention experts suggest having sixty 1-minute talks, rather than one 60-min discussion.
ONLY take pills that are prescribed by your physician for you, filled at a legitimate pharmacy, from a pill bottle that has remained in your possession.
Contact JCFS Chicago addiction services for help curbing drug use. We can assist with a brief screening and referrals to support and treatment.
Have Narcan in your house and in your organization (generic: naloxone) to reverse fentanyl and other opioid overdose. Overdose happens unexpectedly! Don’t assume it can’t happen in your home or school or synagogue or that you can wait for EMTs to arrive; fentanyl can kill in seconds. When you have and know how to administer Narcan, you can save a life! Live4Lali and the Chicago Recovery Alliance distribute Narcan for free and offer training to use it. Lurie also offers a free 15-minute training and Naloxone kit.
If you think it’s an overdose, call 911 immediately. Every minute counts.
Become familiar with Harm Reduction strategies which are implemented to save lives. One example is fentanyl test strips, distributed for free by Live4Lali and the Chicago Recovery Alliance, which detect the presence of fentanyl in other psychoactive drugs.
Here is a link to a painfully compelling video that illustrates the fentanyl reality. This video link was recently shared by the bereaved parent of a student who died in his dorm room at UW-Milwaukee in 2021 of fentanyl poisoning. She shared her story with other parents to drive home the reality that ONE PILL CAN KILL.
- JCFS Chicago addiction services supports individuals and families struggling with or in recovery from addiction and work with the Jewish community to create compassionate responses to addiction’s many challenges. Contact us if you have specific concerns about your own drug use or that of a loved one, or to schedule a community education program: BethFishman@JCFS.org or
- Live4Lali works to reduce stigma and prevent substance use disorder among individuals, families, and communities, and minimize the overall health, legal and social harms associated with substance use. Live4Lali’s Fentanyl Awareness Campaign has fentanyl test strips, Narcan and Narcan training, PSAs, cards, posters, and flyers.
- Chicago Recovery Alliance provides training and technical assistance to organizations and individuals who want to implement an overdose prevention program. CRA also offers free Narcan distribution and training, fentanyl test strips.