How fentanyl poisoning became a national crisis: Johns Hopkins pain doctor explains

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Every day in the United States, news detailing horrific fentanyl-related deaths make headlines as the country grapples with an unparalleled drug crisis. How did we come here?

Doctors started using opioids to treat chronic pain more frequently in the 1990s, leading to increased opioid use among people who don’t need them, according to Johns Hopkins associate professor and “Aches and Gains” podcast host Dr. Paul Christo , pain physician for about 20 years.

“As a pain specialist, we’re often treating … those who take opioids, who develop the disease of addiction,” he said. “As part of that, we…end up treating patients who have the disease of addiction – referring them to addiction medicine specialists, for example…trying to deal with their pain. A lot of that what we’re seeing now with respect to opioid overdose simultaneously involves the pain crisis. You know, there’s a chronic pain epidemic in the United States that about a third of the population suffers from.

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Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid approximately 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It is deadly in small doses and is more commonly found in recreational drugs, although some illicit drug manufacturers and cartels have fentanyl pressed into pills made to look like prescription painkillers.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a record 107,000 Americans died of drug overdoses and poisonings last year, due to poisonings with synthetic opioids - or fentanyl -.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a record 107,000 Americans died of drug overdoses and poisonings last year, due to poisonings with synthetic opioids – or fentanyl -.
(Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA))

“It is important that the public…especially families, friends, loved ones and especially those classified as young adults between the ages of 13 and 25 be aware of the dangers of personal use of synthetic fentanyl,” said Dr. Paul Christo, associate professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and host of the “Aches and Gains” podcast, told Fox News Digital. “We’re really not talking about the pharmaceutically-made fentanyl that we use for chronic pain patients. I think that’s an important distinction.”

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Illegal fentanyl obtained from the street is “deadly because it’s so potent,” he explained. The average person “doesn’t have to ingest a lot of it for it to lead to respiratory problems and then death.” The public should be aware that fentanyl can be found in drugs ranging from heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine to cannabis, Christo explained. Fentanyl test strips can help eliminate the threat of fentanyl in these drugs. Additionally, having Narcan – a drug used to treat narcotic overdoses – on hand can save those who ingest too much fentanyl.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a record 107,000 Americans died from overdoses and poisonings last year, brought on by synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl. An analysis of CDC data released in December 2021 by the fentanyl advocacy organization Families Against Fentanyl found that illicit fentanyl poisoning was the No. 1. 1 cause of death among American adults aged 18-45. Last year.

Fentanyl is deadly in small doses and is more commonly found in recreational drugs, although some illicit drug manufacturers and cartels have squeezed fentanyl into pills designed to look like prescription painkillers.

Fentanyl is deadly in small doses and is more commonly found in recreational drugs, although some illicit drug manufacturers and cartels have squeezed fentanyl into pills designed to look like prescription painkillers.
(Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA))

A February study by the Stanford-Lancet Commission on the North American Opioid Crisis predicts that approximately 1.2 million drug overdose deaths in the United States over the next 10 years, with the black community most affected by the crisis.

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Drug seizures at the southern border have exploded in recent years. Customs and Border Protection seized 10,586 pounds of drugs in fiscal year 2021. This represents an increase from the 4,558 pounds seized in fiscal year 2020 and the 2,633 pounds seized in fiscal year 2021. fiscal year 2019.

Although it is unclear exactly how much fentanyl enters the United States, since this number refers only to drug apprehensions, the number of drug-related deaths is increasing. The Drug Enforcement Administration warned earlier this year of a “national spike” in fentanyl-related overdoses.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid approximately 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid approximately 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
(Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA))

“It appears that a lot of fentanyl is transported through the United States from Mexico. It can be manufactured inexpensively and it is extremely dangerous to take in small doses, which can lead to death quite easily. So I think we’re starting to mobilize a response in terms of what we can do to reduce effectiveness,” Christo said, adding that greater border monitoring of drugs entering the country to ensure that they do not contain fentanyl may prevent the spread of the opioid in the United States.

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People in a situation of dependency should seek treatment. Some cities have “public health services related to substance abuse and use” that are free to eligible people, according to Christo. The American Psychological Association and Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) websites offer free resources for people interested in researching treatment options in their area.

If you or someone you know suffers from substance abuse and addiction, contact the SAMHSA National Hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Fox News’ Adam Shaw contributed to this report.