M 30 pills

The Lancaster County District Attorney's Office warns of fake prescription pills that are actually pressed fentanyl tablets.

THE ISSUE

“An East Hempfield Township man who was charged last year for his part in a fentanyl-laced heroin bust that involved $50,000 worth of the drug” has been sentenced to six to 30 years in prison, LancasterOnline staff reported Aug. 13. Meanwhile, authorities stated that “a Lancaster County Drug Task Force bust of a Manheim man resulted in the seizure of 220 bags of fentanyl,” LancasterOnline reported Aug. 23. Finally, The Associated Press reported late last week that law enforcement officials in Virginia took down a multistate drug ring that was in possession of “enough cheap fentanyl from China to kill 14 million people.”

Let’s start with a fentanyl primer, as many of us must educate ourselves on this drug and its immense dangers.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a federal research institute: “Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. It is a prescription drug that is also made and used illegally. Like morphine, it is a medicine that is typically used to treat patients with severe pain, especially after surgery. It is also sometimes used to treat patients with chronic pain who are physically tolerant to other opioids.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called fentanyl the deadliest drug in America.

Fentanyl in prescription form most often comes as a shot, a patch or lozenges that are sucked like cough drops, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It’s different, though, in its illegal street form. Those doses come “as a powder, dropped onto blotter paper, put in eye droppers and nasal sprays, or made into pills that look like other prescription opioids.” Its illegal forms can have street names such as Apache, China Girl, China White, Dance Fever, Friend, Goodfellas, Jackpot, Murder 8, and Tango & Cash.

Even worse, some street dealers mix cheaper fentanyl with other drugs because it takes very little to produce a high. As the National Institute on Drug Abuse notes, “This is especially risky when people taking drugs don’t realize they might contain fentanyl as a cheap but dangerous additive.”

Illegal forms of fentanyl are widely available in Lancaster County and southcentral Pennsylvania. The drug is shattering lives, tearing families apart and killing our neighbors.

On Friday, the official Twitter account for Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman sent out this alert: “We are receiving information from emergency responders about a spike in overdose incidents in Lancaster County over the past week or so.”

And, earlier this summer, the district attorney’s office issued an advisory about blue pills that appear to be prescription medicine but are actually pressed fentanyl tablets that can be deadly. Some of the pills are blue, are stamped with “M” and “30,” and can look similar to Percocet tablets, LNP’s Lindsey Blest reported.

Stedman’s office is working aggressively to put those who sell or deliver fatal doses of fentanyl behind bars.

One of the most recent cases, reported on LancasterOnline on Friday, involved a Lancaster Township man who was sentenced to seven to 15 years in prison for providing a fentanyl-laced heroin batch that caused a Conestoga Township man to overdose and die in 2017. Prior to his sentencing, the man told the court, “I lost everything I had, but nothing compared to losing a loved one.”

So far this year in Lancaster County, 47 people have died of an overdose, according to data from OverdoseFreePa, a statewide online database. Of those deaths, 36 involved fentanyl.

Fentanyl knows no demographic barriers. On Friday, it was reported by the AP that Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, who died July 1, had fentanyl and oxycodone in his system, along with alcohol.

Certainly, this is one of the most insidious drugs we’re dealing with in battling the opioid epidemic.

One thing we can do is watch for signs of fentanyl use or addiction by friends and family members.

The drug’s effects, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, can include extreme happiness, drowsiness, nausea, confusion, constipation and sedation. And when someone is attempting to stop using the drug, he or she may experience muscle pain, sleeping problems, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes and severe cravings. “These (withdrawal) symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable and are the reason many people find it so difficult to stop taking fentanyl,” the National Institute on Drug Abuse noted.

Help is available, though. For ourselves and our loved ones.

Pennsylvanians can call 800-662-HELP (4357) for information about treatment resources in battling drug problems. It is completely confidential. The hotline, staffed by trained professionals, is available 24/7 in both English and Spanish.

We should educate ourselves and especially our children about the great dangers of fentanyl. That knowledge could save a life.

And we urge those who are suffering from opioid addiction or those who have a loved one dealing with an addiction to seek help immediately.