Fighting Fentanyl: As Deaths Mount, What Can Be Done?


Amid the surge of opioid deaths and seizures of large amounts of illegal fentanyl all across the country, Dr. Paul Christo, Associate Professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, points to easier access to affordable treatment as being a critical component in battling the opioid crisis.

“If you have the disease of addiction, say to fentanyl, treatment is important and necessary,” Dr. Christo said in a recent interview. “There are drug treatment centers across the country. Sadly though, there aren’t enough, and they’re quite expensive. Frankly, I think what we should do is use some of the money that the pharmaceutical companies have been paying out to help fund the cost of these treatment centers.”

Educating young people about the dangers of illicit drug use and finding more effective ways to stop the manufacture and distribution of illegal drugs are other critical steps, Dr. Christo added.

Opioids began as an effective treatment for chronic pain, but its use quickly spiraled out of control, he explains.

“In the mid-1990s, more and more practitioners were using opioids as a first-line agent to reduce pain,” Dr. Christo said. “And that, unfortunately, led to an increase in the use of opioids for chronic pain and probably increased the use for those who really didn’t need them.”

There’s no question that the pandemic caused a troubling upward trend in addiction disorders, and a recent study predicts an additional 1.2 million drug overdose deaths in the next decade, with people in the Black community bearing the brunt of the opioid epidemic.

Dr. Christo wants to remind those battling chronic pain or addiction that there is hope — and help — if they just know where to look for it.

“Don’t give up if you have chronic pain,” he said. “Because there is hope. We have nonopioid treatments that can be effective. Also don’t give up if you have a substance use disorder. Talk to your primary care doctor, talk to emergency room physicians…Take the opportunity to use the resources that are available.”

The opioid epidemic today progressed in three phases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The first involves deaths caused by prescription opioids, the second, an increase in heroin use, and the third, a surge in the use of synthetic opioids or fentanyl. Experts say the U.S. is right in the middle of the third phase of the epidemic, due to the increasing availability of fentanyl and increasing rates of overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids.

Related Reading: NSW Ambulance Pleads Guilty After Paramedic’s Suicide.

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