The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

Facing the ongoing tragedy of drug overdoses


The coronaviru­s continues to dominate our lives. Masks in schools. Mandates for vaccines. Special powers for the governor. Even as hope arises yet again that the worst may be in the past, the specter of a resurgence is top of mind. And yet at the same time a parallel tragedy has been unfolding right in front of us, killing thousands of people without dominating the daily headlines. Officials are warning that the toll could get worse.

In 2019, more than 70,000 drug overdose deaths were recorded in the United States. Opioids are currently the main driver of drug overdose deaths, accounting for more than 70 percent of all cases, and most of those deaths involve synthetic opioids. The numbers are rising, with opioid-related deaths increasing by 6 percent over the previous year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Officials have issued a new warning about the “alarming increase in the lethality and availabili­ty of fake prescripti­on pills,” especially those containing fentanyl and methamphet­amine. The Drug Enforcemen­t Administra­tion has issued its first Public Safety Alert in six years to raise public awareness of a significan­t nationwide surge in counterfei­t pills that are marketed as legitimate prescripti­on pills, and “are killing unsuspecti­ng Americans at an unpreceden­ted rate.”

According to the DEA, more than 9.5 million counterfei­t pills were seized so far this year, more than the two previous years combined. Officials say lab tests have indicated a “dramatic rise” in the number of pills with at least 2 milligrams of fentanyl, which is considered a lethal dose.

The opioid crisis has followed a number of distinct waves, starting in the 1990s with prescripti­on pills, followed by a heroin crisis that grew markedly worse around 2010, and now the current iteration, which involves synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Since it’s often found in combinatio­n with heroin, counterfei­t pills and cocaine, people can take fentanyl without knowing they’re ingesting a much more dangerous substance.

All the numbers can’t hide that this is an ongoing crisis affecting real people and real families in communitie­s all around us. No one asks to be addicted to illicit substances, but an addiction can quickly become all-consuming, no matter where you live or what you do. The devastatio­n is real and growing.

There’s no crisis that’s more important — both COVID-19 and the overdose epidemic are priorities in public health. But they’re happening simultaneo­usly, so it’s easy for one to get lost in the shuffle. Because COVID is still so new, even after a year and a half, it receives the bulk of the attention.

But everyone needs to be aware of the concurrent drug crisis. For people who are addicted to opioids, the DEA’s warning must be taken seriously. While officers work to take illicit substances off the streets, people facing a daily struggle with addiction must pay close attention to what they buy and what they use.

There are no easy answers. If people with addictions could stop easily, they would. But it’s incumbent on everyone to take this ongoing tragedy seriously. Everyone has a role to play in keeping safe the people we love.

Officials say lab tests have indicated a “dramatic rise” in the number of pills with at least 2 milligrams of fentanyl, which is considered a lethal dose.

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