Over the past few years, the use of deadly drugs across our country has risen greatly. For whatever reason, and there are many, people continue to experiment with drugs that can kill them within minutes or even seconds after use. Lately, here in in Southeast Tennessee, we have seen the illegal possession and use of fentanyl grow to epidemic proportions.
Let me refresh your minds on what it is, and how medical professionals legally use it. A synthetic opioid, fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Medical professionals who treat severe pain, such as with advanced cancer treatments, use it in a controlled, clinical setting. Doctors and other medical providers know the exact amounts used to ease cancer pain, and they limit fentanyl’s use to that tiny, pre-set amount.
A highly potent narcotic, fentanyl can be lethal with only a few grains. Deaths from fentanyl and other synthetic opioids in Tennessee increased from 169 in 2015 to 294 in 2016, according to state data. With just weeks left in this year, those in the medical field and all of us in law enforcement in our state expect another move upward in this terribly sad trend. The number is rising across the country also, as a crackdown on prescription painkillers spurs people who have a problem with substances to buy illegal drugs, to replace legal medications they may have been abusing. Heroin and fentanyl are a fraction of the cost of prescription painkillers sold on the street, as well. Mixing drugs together, including fentanyl, is a practice law enforcement and medical professionals are starting to deal with all too often. A person who desires a quick, cheap high one minute, can be dead the next, due to unknown drug mixing.
Locally, our fine EMS personnel respond time after time to deal with overdoses. Many times, officers, fire and rescue, as well as medical responders deal with a person who is “unresponsive.” There are times this self-induced, potentially deadly state of unconsciousness is reversed medically. Sometimes, sadly, it cannot be. I recently received information that greatly saddened me from Addiction Labs, a subsidiary of American Addiction Centers. This organization expects to see 14,000 deaths nationwide in 2017 from fentanyl alone — not including similar synthetic drugs, heroin or painkillers.
The above-mentioned responders must take extraordinary precautions when dealing with a suspected fentanyl overdose, in that even trace amounts of fentanyl — the equivalent of a grain of salt — could be enough to trigger an overdose in a first responder or a citizen who brushes against a person who has handled the drug. Thankfully, nothing of this sort has happened locally. All first responders and medical staff must deal with fentanyl under strict guidelines.
The information contained in this article does not delve deeply into the situations Bradley County deputies and other responders must deal with. That would take many pages. I urge concerned citizens to look up information about fentanyl, a legal drug that has become a danger, due to illegal use.
Sadly, our first responders deal all too often with the call “unresponsive person.”
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