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Fentanyl Facts and Overdose Risks

Updated: Feb 14, 2023

New APF eCourse Available

Synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, were involved in 65% of all overdose deaths in the US by June, 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Law enforcement agencies report that fentanyl is present in all 50 states in urban, suburban and rural communities.

The Addiction Policy Forum, in partnership with the Justice Community Opioid Innovation Network (JCOIN) at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), developed an eCourse, Fentanyl Facts and Increased Overdose Risk, to raise awareness of the risks associated with fentanyl and other synthetic opioids among practitioners, law enforcement, public health officials and families.

The course takes approximately 30 minutes to complete, and features top practitioners in the field including Dr. Wilson Compton, Deputy Director of NIDA, Sean Fearns, Chief of Community Outreach at the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Dr. David Tarantino, Senior Medical Advisor to US Customs & Border Protection (CBP) and Dr. Brandon del Pozo, Assistant Professor at Brown University and Former Chief of Police in Burlington, VT.

“The appeal of fentanyl is really an economic one,” Dr. Wilson Compton of NIDA explained. “We have an inexpensive poison that is a very powerful and potent opioid that is relatively easy to manufacture. A tiny portion of this chemical can be diluted and made to mimic heroin or the pills that people are looking for.”

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, illicit pills containing fentanyl seized by law enforcement increased by 3,000% with over 9 million counterfeit pills seized in 2021.

“Counterfeit pills are manufactured by drug trafficking organizations to mimic American pharmaceutical products like Xanax or Adderall,” said Sean Fearns, of DEA. He further explained that it is virtually impossible to tell if a pill is counterfeit or not unless it is obtained by a prescription from a medical professional and filled by a licensed pharmacist.

Also included is factual information for first responders on how to protect themselves when responding to incidents where fentanyl is present and corrects misinformation present in communities about fentanyl exposure. "First responders are more likely to encounter fentanyl in the line of duty," Dr. David Tarantino, of CBP said. "We want to make sure they have the facts to keep themselves safe."

Dr. Brandon del Pozo explained that the misinformation concerning fentanyl causes police and other first responders additional stress that can hamper their ability to do their job. "This type of misinformation needlessly delays critical overdose response, stigmatizes people who use drugs and causes police stress."

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