According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fentanyl overdoses have increased by a factor of 12 between the years 2013 and 2019. Following the deaths of comedians Enrico Colangeli and Fuquan Johnson on Sep 4., Traci Green (HELLER), Director of the Opioid Policy Research Collective, has commented on the fight against fentanyl and drug overdoses in a People article published Sep. 13.
In Green’s comments, she states that as a medication, “[fentanyl] is extremely important… it’s fast-acting and strong, insofar as it will bring that immediate pain relief.” However in regards to the pervasiveness of the drug in recreational use, Green states that fentanyl has “reached into communities where it hadn’t ever been before,” according to the article.
In these communities, fatalities from fentanyl overdose are easy compared to other drugs like morphine and heroin because it is over a hundred times as potent, according to a different People.com article. Therefore, Green remarks that “if someone who’s used to taking cocaine at parties does a line of fentanyl or even cocaine that has some fentanyl in it, that can really be the difference between life and death.” That is because fentanyl overdoses can occur when people believe the drug that they are taking is either cocaine, heroin or some other similar-looking powder, according to the article.
In regards to stopping the continually growing rate of fentanyl, Green believes that “We have to learn to live with fentanyl because it’s here to stay… We have to adjust, and stay safe, and take care of each other, and be on the lookout.” In the article, Green compares living with fentanyl to having to live with viruses: we have to adjust to its presence in our environment since we cannot make it go away, said Green.
In a similar vein, Green believes that destigmatizing drugs can help, commenting that “There may be shame of serious mental health concerns, or shame of their own use, or shame of returning use of relapse.”
A potential way to test for fentanyl prior to engaging in drug use is to use fentanyl testing strips, according to the article. The testing strip works by dissolving the unknown drug in a given amount of water and placing the testing strip inside of it. The testing strip will display colored lines if the sample is positive for fentanyl, according to the article.
For treatment of a potential or suspected fentanyl overdose, it is helpful to carry naloxone or narcan. Green states that “if Narcan is available and in the hands of people at that party, or at the housing structure or wherever, we’d have more opportunities for a quick response.” In some cases, having that life-saving antidote within reach can be the difference between a saved life and a fentanyl overdose.
Green is an epidemiologist with a concentration in research regarding drug and opioid use, according to her Brandeis faculty page. Green currently also serves as a co-director of the Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) on Opioids and Overdoses at Rhode Island Hospital and acts as an advisor to the Rhode Island governor on addiction and overdose topics, according to her page. She serves as a consultant for the CDC on public health and has previously worked as the Deputy Director of the Boston Medical Injury Prevention Center, according to the page.