The Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) has issued a public health warning related to fentanyl and fentanyl-laced substances.
TDH and Coffee County Anti-Drug Coalition (CCADC) urge Tennesseans to have heightened awareness about misuse of fentanyl and the risks for overdose deaths associated with improper use, including the great risk posed by counterfeit prescriptions or other illegal drugs that may contain fentanyl or similar compounds.
CCADC fighting the problem
“The anti-drug coalition is all about prevention and working in the community,” said Jesslyn Johnson, interim CCADC director.
As fentanyl has become a bigger problem, the coalition will work to educate the community about the dangers associated with the drug, said Johnson.
“We want to work with the community on making that a priority,” Johnson said. “That may be through presentations we do and through making that a priority when we visit the schools to talk with kids about prescription drugs and how taking a drug not prescribed to you can be very dangerous. We also will work to educate the adults in the community.”
The coalition will partner with anybody interested in solving the drug-addiction problem, said Johnson.
“We already have a good working relationship with our schools, law enforcement and the health council,” she said. “We also have a lot of materials and information for parents, teens and anybody who is interested in fighting the problem.”
Data show fentanyl has become a greater problem in recent years.
“As we look at the county data, we can see that we have been on a steady increase in opioid and drug overdoses, and fentanyl is part of the problem,” Johnson said.
In September, TDH reported that fentanyl was identified as a primary cause of increase in overdose deaths.
The data show 1,631 Tennesseans died from drug overdoses in 2016, the highest annual number of such deaths recorded in state history. This is an increase from the 1,451 overdose deaths recorded among Tennesseans in 2015.
In Coffee County, 17 overdose deaths were reported in 2016. That year, Coffee County had 87,171 opioid prescriptions for pain, which amounts to 1,594 prescriptions for 1,000 persons. After a decrease of the numbers in 2013, with eight deaths, the number of overdose deaths has increased in the county, with nine deaths in 2014, 14 in 2015 and 17 in 2016.
Overall, rates of death from drug overdose among Tennesseans have increased 12 percent from 2015 to 2016. Overdose deaths related to fentanyl have dramatically increased 74 percent from 169 to 294 in that time period. The biggest increase in fentanyl deaths is in individuals between the ages of 25 and 34, where deaths increased from 42 in 2015 to 114 in 2016, according to state data.
“We are alarmed by the growing number of Tennesseans dying as a result of fentanyl, and by the changing demographic of those who died,” said TDH Chief Medical Officer David Reagan in a press release. “This tells us we need to put additional focus on prevention of substance abuse, particularly for those younger than 25, as we believe people are initiating their use of illegal drugs such as fentanyl before that time.”
Learn about fentanyl
Fentanyl is an extremely powerful synthetic opioid similar to morphine, but 50 to 100 times more potent. It is legally used to relieve intense pain after surgery or chronic pain. In prescription form, it is known as Actig, Duragesic and Sublimaze. Fentanyl is an opioid analgesic, a type of drug that binds with opioid receptors and blocks the transmission of pain signals to the brain.
Non-prescription fentanyl sold through the illegal drug market can be used as a standalone substance or mixed with other substances, including heroin. It can be in the form of a powder, transdermal patch, nasal spray or in counterfeit tablets disguised as other prescription drugs. Fentanyl is pressed into counterfeit tablets mimicking commonly misused prescription opioids such as hydrocodone and oxycodone.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has reported that in many cases, the shape, coloring and markings were consistent with authentic prescription medications and fentanyl was only detected after laboratory examination. According to DEA, nonpharmaceutical fentanyl is often packaged as a powder form in waxed envelopes or glassine bags stamped with brand names such as “Ghost,” Get Right,” “El Chapo” and “56 Nights.” There have been reported instances of fentanyl pain-relief patches being cut up and smoked or ingested.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has confirmed that state law enforcement officials have made several seizures of fentanyl analogues across the state, weighing over a kilogram, in forms such as heroin and many counterfeit versions of hydrocodone, oxycodone, Percocet and other misused pain relief medications.
Use extreme caution
In 2016, CDC issued a warning advising law enforcement to use extreme caution when handling suspected illegally manufactured fentanyl, white powders and unknown substances. Tennessee residents who find an unknown substance or pill they suspect might contain fentanyl should not handle that substance. Residents are encouraged to notify local law enforcement for safe disposal. According to TDH, drugs should never be flushed down toilets or sinks.
Parents, caregivers, teachers, local law enforcement and mentors are encouraged to educate themselves and others about the dangers of drug abuse.
The appearance of fentanyl in drugs associated with overdose deaths has more than doubled in recent years.
Assistance is available to help Tennessee residents with substance use disorders.
The CCADC is located at 122 McMinnville Highway in Manchester. For more information about fentanyl and other drug-related issues, call the coalition at (931) 570 – 4484.
The Tennessee REDLINE (1-800-889-9789) is a toll-free information and referral line coordinated by the Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drug & Other Addiction Services (TAADAS) and funded by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.