New CDC Data Is Historic And Tragic
On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data showing that overdose deaths have hit a record-breaking high: more than 100,000 fatalities due to drug overdoses, many of them caused by Fentanyl, occurred in the 12-month span that concluded in April of this year.
CNN contextualized the scope of the statistic in its reporting; an article published by the outlet reveals that deaths increased “28.5% from the same period a year earlier…nearly doubling over the past five years.”
Almost 2 in every 3 deaths are due to Synthetic Opioids, and within that class Fentanyl is the most deadly.
There’s speculation that the pandemic has facilitated the spread of drugs like Fentanyl, and that potent and synthesizable substances are appealing to drug traffickers who must contend with lockdown measures and may only have so much physical storage space with which to move their product.
Experts tend to agree that the long-term solution to the overdose crisis involves making addiction treatment, like the kind offered by inpatient and outpatient rehab, available to more Americans. In the meantime, however, state governments and law enforcement agencies are taking steps to act against Fentanyl — and a new model law released by the current administration may lead to more access to lifesaving medications that can help prevent further tragedy.
The Fight Against Fentanyl Ramps Up
The same day that the CDC released the new data, Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Jen Smith stressed the importance of carrying Naloxone (also called Narcan), a medication that can save lives by undoing the effect Opioids have in the brain and reversing an overdose.
Secretary Smith stated, “You never know when you may come across an individual suffering from an overdose. There are numerous ways [to] access life-saving naloxone…we’re here today to encourage that people take advantage of those resources.”
Pennsylvania has County and Regional Centralized Coordinating Entities (CCEs) that work with first responders to distribute Naloxone. Many states may have similar programs; in all 50 states, Naloxone is available with no prescription and may be obtained at a local pharmacy.
The medication is safe to use and relatively easy to administer, does not generally cause any side effects, and doesn’t get the user high.
At the same time that everyday Americans are being asked to step up and learn how to use Naloxone to save lives, law enforcement agencies are coming down hard on Fentanyl suppliers.
A day before the CDC released their data, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) declared that it would begin more thoroughly and systematically pursuing Fentanyl dealers, especially when 1 dealer or group of dealers is seen to be responsible for multiple instance of the drug being distributed.
Assistant Chief Bea Girmala said that it was important to not merely address the currently unfolding crisis but also ask “What does the supply chain look like…can we link it to any particular dealer or an establishment where maybe people had frequented prior to the overdose?”
The LAPD said it would work with the DEA to dismantle and bring justice to Fentanyl suppliers; many law enforcement agencies across the country are doing the same.
New Model Law Could Provide Solution
On Wednesday, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy gave states a legal template that might be used to increase access to Naloxone across the nation. As Bloomberg Law reported, “The model law would promote educational initiatives on the benefits of drugs like Naloxone, create a pilot program for bystanders to access the drug, and grant legal protections for people who administer it.”
It could be beneficial to open up access to Naloxone in more places around the country; though it is legal without a prescription in all states, laws are very different across different jurisdictions. Furthermore, in many states, individuals who administer Naloxone could potentially be criminally charged for their behavior. Legal shields that would prevent something like that from happening could go a long way toward saving lives that might otherwise be lost to Fentanyl or drugs like it.
According to the White House, the administration is committed to increasing “access to evidence-based prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and recovery support services…In addition to these actions, the President’s FY22 budget request calls for a $41.0 billion investment for national drug program agencies.”