With the heroin epidemic in the United States reaching deadlier heights, Jacksonville-based Lakeview Health drug and alcohol treatment center's Dr. Philip Hemphill is helping to explain why fentanyl is causing a new wave of overdoses. Because Fentanyl is approximately 40 to 50 times more potent than pharmaceutical grade heroin and often illegally purchased unknowingly by recreational users as heroin, the risk of death skyrockets.
"Fentanyl can be an important drug in helping some patients, particularly in cancer pain management, when other medications are not effective," explained Dr. Hemphill, Chief Clinical Officer at Lakeview Health. "But because it is so powerful, it takes very little to cause an overdose, especially in the hands of a drug dealer."
What is fentanyl?
Fentanyl was first synthesized in the 1960s and is often prescribed for chronic pain management as a transdermal patch where the rate of absorption by the body is slowed. When it is injected, however, the effects outpace even heroin.
Drug dealers are cutting or falsely selling fentanyl as heroin
While gram for gram, fentanyl is more expensive than heroin, its potency allows it to be used in different ways. Diluted amounts are added to lower grade heroin to boost euphoric effectiveness and many times replaced all together in the name of higher profits.
Why fentanyl is especially dangerous in the wrong hands
Because the strength of Fentanyl produced by backroom labs can vary widely, it is especially dangerous when sold by drug dealers. Those variations coupled with the fact that a heroin tolerance does not translate to a fentanyl tolerance means that it is easy to unknowingly overdose, especially the first time.
"It is important that we reach the addicted public on this issue quickly," continued Dr. Hemphill. "Fentanyl-laced heroin is turning up around the country and if we don't work together to get the message out, we are going to see a heroin crisis turn into something far deadlier."