Fentanyl: the hidden killer

Kaitlyn Smitten, Sports Editor

As one of the most potent and dangerous drugs, fentanyl is ravaging people’s lives and causing thousands of deaths. Fentanyl is a man-made drug 50-100 times more potent than morphine. 

 Being a synthetic drug, fentanyl is very easily produced and is therefore  oftentimes present in other drugs. Due to its synthetic nature, the opioid is also extremely deadly, even in the smallest of doses. 

“For the first time in years the average life expectancy for Americans has gone down. It is a crisis that is so bad, that the average person is living a lesser amount of time now,” said Richard Weyker, government and economics teacher. 

Not only has the drug resulted in an increase of overdose related deaths, it has also exhausted the economy, causing the country and individual states to wear out their resources on the war against fentanyl. 

“Economically, it exasperated the resources of the state. We are spending more and more on the war on drugs. We are spending more and more on treatment. The legal system is being overburdened by it,” Weyker said. 

The amount of time, money, and effort being put into the drug crisis is straining the government at both the state and national level. Although drug resources should be readily available, some states fail to see the importance of drug education systems, rehab centers, and even drug testing strips.  

“We are no longer talking about drug use as a moral failing, but as a mental health crisis, which it is. Now that it is clear that the war on drugs is a failure. Overdoses are higher than they have ever been before. You’re hearing the narrative change where we are trying to figure out how to help people instead of ostracizing them,” Weyker said. 

Arizona, along with the majority of the U.S. states, has made fentanyl testing strips illegal.  Many government officials believe that making testing strips available to the public would only increase drug use among the population.

“By making it harder to get access to the tools that people can use to test for fentanyl, we are causing people to die,” Weyker said. 

Not only is the economy affected by the increase in fentanyl use, but also many individuals and families who have suffered a loss due to the crisis. 

“As much as people would like to try stuff, just don’t. You don’t know if your parents might have been addicts and passed that gene onto you… We want to see people live and we don’t want to have to bury a friend because of drugs,” said Lauren Clark, junior. 

Clark lost her older brother last year to fentanyl poisoning and since the event, her and her family have put forth their best efforts in order to bring more attention to the topic and inform others of the dangers of fentanyl. 

“Since the death of my brother, I’m just trying to help everybody I can,” Clark said. “As much as it may feel good to you, you need to find a different outlet that will feel good, but not drugs.”

There are many different reasons why people tend to get into drugs. Whether it be because their friends are doing it, or because they use it as a coping mechanism, drugs, especially synthetic opioids, have plagued society for centuries and part of the reason is the stigma around dealing with addiction. 

“We have been misunderstanding addiction in this nation for the last half a century, and in my opinion, what we need to do more than anything else is to stop treating drug addicts like criminals, and start appreciating them as victims,” Weyker said. 

The school system and even society itself has always treated drug addicts or people who abuse substances as “bad people,” when most of the time, people who do struggle with addiction are suffering from an underlying issue that they are using substances to help cope with. 

“These are victims of a mental health crisis and so criminalizing addiction makes about as much sense to me as criminalizing depression. You are only going to make the situation worse. We need to focus on better treatment,” Weyker said. 

Although society has made substantial progress in combating addiction, there are still more measures that need to be put in place in order to ensure everyone has access and availability to rehabilitation resources and ways to introduce themselves back into society. 

“Providing a system where we can help people who are addicted and find them places to work, get effective treatment, be provided things like counseling and a support system and people they can talk to, that is what I think will combat this,” Weyker said. 

There are many different forms of rehabilitation and therapy that people who have addiction can seek out. One of the most successful and prominent places in Arizona is called Billy’s Place, which is a place that offers grief support to families after a loss of a loved one.  

“Billy’s place is a place where people can talk about the people they have lost. The good memories, the bad memories, anything really and it really helps, because everyone there has lost someone close to them,” Clark said. 

Billy’s place, like so many other resources, allows families to talk about loved ones who they have lost and provides different coping mechanisms in order to aid in the healing process. Although the nation and its attitude towards addiction is still extremely hostile, having a place to go to talk about someone’s addiction, or even your addiction, can help combat the grotesque amount of stigma around the topic. 

“The war on drugs, the best way I’ve ever heard it described is a Holocaust in slow motion and it’s been easy for people to ignore the negative effects when it has predominantly affected the urban areas of this country and the poorer areas,” Weyker said. “The fentanyl crisis is hitting everybody, including well-to-do types in New York, including middle class Americans.”

Most of the time when people think of the drug war, they do not truly understand the scale or consequences that come with it. With more and more Americans being affected by fentanyl poisoning, people are starting to grasp the full scale and devastation of fentanyl and other opioids. 

“I think it’s sad that as the year goes on there is a connection to someone that we know that is dealing with [drug addiction] and it’s becoming more and more often. I know more people that have died from fentanyl than in a car accident. That’s scary because we drive everyday,” said Jena Clark, elementary school teacher and mother to Lauren Clark. 

With an increase in drug related deaths and still a very negative view on drug addiction and mental health, the drug crisis is on its way to an even more dangerous and deadly place. 

“There is a great statistic I heard recently that as the average floor space in our homes has grown, the number of people we could talk to in a time of crisis has shrunk, and to me, that is the story of America,” Weyker said. 

Not only do people feel more isolated and less inclined to talk about their addiction, there is also the factor of fentanyl poisoning in which people might not even know they are taking the drug. Due to the high potency of the drug, one dose could easily result in someone ending up in a body bag. 

“I think it is almost inevitable at some point that there is going to be a student at this school [ and other highschools] who’s at a party and someone gives them some drugs and there is going to be fentanyl in there, and because fentanyl is so potent…all it takes is a little bit to be laced with whatever a student is taking, and they’re dead, and I worry about that a lot,” Weyker said.