The fentanyl crisis in America explained

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The fentanyl crisis in America explained: How Christians can respond

April 11, 2023 -

A prescription bottle is filled with white pills and surrounded by more pills of the same, indicative of the fentanyl crisis in America. © By Steve Cukrov/stock.adobe.com

A prescription bottle is filled with white pills and surrounded by more pills of the same, indicative of the fentanyl crisis in America. © By Steve Cukrov/stock.adobe.com

A prescription bottle is filled with white pills and surrounded by more pills of the same, indicative of the fentanyl crisis in America. © By Steve Cukrov/stock.adobe.com

Earlier this year, a sixteen-year-old in Texas took a prescription pain pill and later died. The family soon learned that she’d bought the pill from someone who claimed it was Percocet. Tragically, the pill was laced with fentanyl.

Elsewhere in Texas, nearly a dozen student overdoses in a single school district resulted in three deaths, including a middle schooler.

Today, there are too many similar news stories of young people overdosing after taking fentanyl pills they were told would help with pain, anxiety, or depression.

Deteriorating mental health across the nation is a core reason for the sharp increase in drug abuse. And as evidenced by the data, COVID-19 accelerated the mass use of fentanyl with Americans looking for escapes from the stress of the pandemic.

But fentanyl is also impacting the lives of people who never intended to be near the narcotic. Many of the overdoses are of unwilling participants. Users are being coerced by deceptive pills developed by cartels. The DEA is now even warning of “rainbow fentanyl” that is brightly colored with the intention of looking like candy in order to attract youth.

The fentanyl crisis is fueling the ravaging opioid epidemic. Unless something is done to end the influx of fentanyl in the next decade, there’s a possibility that the majority of Americans will know someone who overdoses from fentanyl.

“A decade ago, we didn’t even know about fentanyl, and now it’s a national crisis.” That’s Randy Grossman, US Attorney for the Southern District of California, speaking to the fact that fentanyl is increasingly permeating our culture and knows no boundaries.

So what can be done to protect you and your loved ones from the most dangerous illegal drug on the street?

The best thing you can do is be educated on fentanyl’s background, distribution, data, and the signs of someone in an overdose. Additionally, parents of teenagers should have a conversation with their children about not taking any unknown pills and the dangers of fentanyl-laced pills.

Below is a brief summary of the fentanyl crisis followed by a call to prayer and action for believers, as well as a biblical truth for anyone who finds themselves in an addiction or tempted with the desire to meddle with substances.

What is fentanyl?

Fentanyl was developed in 1959 as a surgical pain reliever and was exclusively used in hospitals for decades. In the 1990s, a fentanyl skin patch was created for chronic pain relief and became a prescribed drug that offered rapid pain relief to everyday patients. Additional versions of the drug became available heading into the 2000s.

An opioid with fifty to one hundred times more potency than morphine, fentanyl is quick to become addictive when not under a doctor’s supervision. When criminal drug manufacturers got hold of the powerful analgesic, they began modifying its chemical structures. Their versions of fentanyl were more lethal and almost immediately began a deadly ripple effect across America.

How to recognize a fentanyl overdose

The CDC lists the following characteristics as signs of a fentanyl overdose:

  • Small, constricted “pinpoint” pupils
  • Falling asleep or losing consciousness
  • Slow, weak, or not breathing
  • Choking or gurgling sounds
  • Limp body
  • Cold and/or clammy skin
  • Discolored skin (especially in lips and nails)

If you notice these signs, the CDC recommends immediately calling 911 and turning the person on their side while you wait for paramedics. Administer Naloxone if available.

Where does fentanyl come from?

According to the Wilson Center, China produces roughly 90 percent of the world’s fentanyl, fentanyl analogues (alterations), and fentanyl precursors (chemicals used to create fentanyl). Chinese companies then send some of the product directly to the United States, but most is shipped to Mexican ports.

Once in Mexico, drug cartels form the fentanyl into counterfeit pills that are intended to resemble oxycodone and other prescription opioids. These pills are then smuggled into the United States where they are run through suppliers that land the drug into the hands of users.

The issue has become so prevalent that Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador recently “asked his Chinese counterpart for help Tuesday in halting chemicals from China used by Mexican drug dealers to illegally produce fentanyl.”

The rise in fentanyl overdoses

Illegal fentanyl first came to notoriety in the early 2010s when overdose numbers tracked into the thousands. But over the last decade overdose death numbers have dramatically skyrocketed.

According to the DEA, fentanyl overdoses ranged from 2,666 in 2011 to 31,335 in 2018.

The CDC reports that “the number of overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids in 2020 was more than 18 times the number in 2013”

The National Institute on Drug Abuse’s most recent data shows opioid (primarily fentanyl) overdose deaths tragically rose to more than 70,000 in 2021, meaning fentanyl made up roughly 67 percent of the overall 106,000 overdose deaths in the United States in 2021. The gray line in this chart offers a glimpse at just how quickly fentanyl started its deadly rampage and its unrivaled rate of lethality.

This deeply concerning data is indicative of just how rapidly fentanyl rose from a little-known pharmaceutical to a household name in less than ten years. The shocking death rate has garnered immense attention from all levels of government who are scraping together strategies to combat the epidemic.

The Biden administration has requested $46.1 billion in the FY24 budget go toward National Drug Control Program agencies to fight the opioid epidemic through “an increase in funding to support the expansion of prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and recovery support services.”

One strategy already in the works is putting Naloxone into more hands of first responders and, in some cases, educators. Naloxone, often called Narcan, is a nasal spray or injectable that reverses an overdose by blocking the effects of opioids and can have the subject breathing normally within two to three minutes. (If there is someone in your life that you are concerned about potentially overdosing, consider carrying naloxone on your person or have it available in your home.)

A biblical response to the fentanyl crisis

When an illegal drug wreaks havoc on the streets, Americans (including the government) have a tendency to push the problem away. This mindset aided in the expansion of drug use in America for decades, including in the mid-twentieth century as heroin riddled lower-class communities, followed by the cocaine boom in the 1980s and in the pharmaceutical opioid crisis at the start of the millennium.

So how can we avoid past mistakes and respond biblically to the crisis of today?

For starters, we can pray.

  • Pray for the mental health of our nation, particularly among youth.
  • Pray for an end to the trafficking of fentanyl and other harmful substances.
  • Pray for law enforcement and government agencies working to bring an end to the epidemic.
  • Pray for healing and addiction breaking for substance abusers.

We also need to love and serve.

As believers, God calls us to love and care for all of his children, including those who have trekked down a wayward path (Luke 15:11–32). Rather than judge individuals who have meddled with substances, think and pray about how you can serve them and help them find freedom in Christ. If this subject tugs at your heart, look into local churches or ministries that serve drug communities and support addiction recovery.

If you are personally struggling with temptation or active substance abuse, find comfort in the truth of 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

The Lord is our sustainer and provides so much more satisfaction, comfort, and freedom than any substance ever could.

Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. . . . Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:31, 34–36).

Fentanyl has wreaked havoc and catalyzed drastic consequences for our culture, but ultimately it is no match for the power of our God. With faith in Jesus, our chains are broken and no sin or addiction can hold us down.

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