A drug touted as 10 times more powerful than heroin, the synthetic opioid Fentanyl has become a widely abused substance in many areas across the United States in recent years. New Orleans is one locale that has been hit especially hard by this growing epidemic, with the Orleans parish coroner reporting that during the first half of 2016, there were more heroin and fentanyl-related deaths than homicides in his jurisdiction. This staggering statistic signals a sharp rise in opioid abuse in New Orleans that can be seen mirrored in many communities nationwide.
Fentanyl is not a new drug, rather, it has been used since the 1960s for treating severe pain from certain medical conditions, such as cancer. And like other opioids, Fentanyl acts as a respiratory depressant that can slow one’s heartrate to a fatal level almost immediately. This dangerous substance is often cut with heroin, creating a combination of toxins that have left paramedics and other emergency response personnel grappling to save lives within a very short window of time.
Why New Orleans
As the death toll from Fentanyl abuse continues to rise, many New Orleans residents are left to wonder about the cause of this dangerous trend. To better understand the source of this substance, local law enforcement officials are busy delving into ways that Fentanyl is reaching New Orleans and other parts of the Southeast in such large quantities. So far, two countries have been named, with Andy Large, assistant special agent-in-charge of the DEA, citing Mexico and China as two predominant sources.
This rise in Fentanyl use has also been caused by the sheer ease of access and availability due to the way in which it is produced. Because it is a synthetic substance, Fentanyl does not require the same time and resources that are required to grow plant-derived drugs like marijuana. Instead, Fentanyl is created in a lab setting that allows for a quick and inexpensive means of production. Additionally, the internet has allowed individuals who are seeking Fentanyl to purchase the drug online directly from the cartels who are distributing it.
Responding to the Crisis
The Fentanyl epidemic has changed the rules for the war on drugs in recent years. Public health agents, law enforcement officials, and emergency personnel have all struggled to respond as this crisis continues to expand. To keep up with demand, resources have been diverted into raising public awareness of the acute dangers of Fentanyl, especially in regard to the mislabeling of certain substances. Further, many emergency responders are now carrying large amounts of naloxone, which is used to reverse the life-threatening respiratory suppression that Fentanyl is known to cause.