A mother has shared her final moment with her dying son to deliver a warning about the dangers of drugs.
Sherri Kent’s son Michael died aged 22 after overdosing on Class A drug fentanyl.
She took the brave decision to share the picture on Facebook to raise awareness of a drug that is killing hundreds of people a year in Canada.
She was called a month ago and informed that Michael had overdosed and was in hospital on life support.
‘It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with in my life,’ she told CBC . ‘Believe me, it was the worst days of my life.’
Sherri, who is from Calgary, said her son was not an addict but made a mistake that cost him his life.
She explained her son had taken the drug in the bathroom of a store near to where he lived. He overdosed and died in hospital a week later.
She explained in a Facebook post. ‘I just want to make everyone aware of the epidemic that’s going on right now that’s killing five to seven people a day in every city in Canada.’
She added: ‘It’s out of control and there is no way to protect our children from this other than to warn them of the dangers of drug use today.
‘I’ve lost my son to this horrible tragedy and want to make parents aware that it can happen to anyone who decides to touch anything that can be snorted up your nose.’
So what exactly is fentanyl? And why is this drug, which has been around as medicine for decades, popping up as a big cause of death now?
The short answer is that as people who use drugs have moved from opioid painkillers to seek out more potent, cheaper drugs, there has been a destructive race to find the most affordable high. Fentanyl, as a drug that’s relatively easy to produce for a better, cheaper high per dose than heroin, has become the natural destination for traffickers and users who want the strongest products.
This also offers a stark warning about the opioid epidemic: When it comes to cracking down on opioids, just going after the drug’s supply isn’t enough. If you go after opioid painkillers, people will eventually go to heroin. If you go after heroin, they’ll eventually go to fentanyl. And if you go after fentanyl, they might resort to some of its analogs, like carfentanil.
This drug crisis, then, likely requires a response that also tackles the core demand for these drugs, particularly through new forms of drug prevention and treatment that can get people off these dangerous substances altogether.
To understand that, let’s first pull back to what fentanyl and its analogs are, where they came from, and what they can teach us about the opioid epidemic’s trajectory.
Fentanyl is an extremely potent opioid
Fentanyl is, traditionally, a synthetic opioid used medically to relieve pain. It was first made in the 1960s, and since then it’s been adopted as a spray, patch, lollipop, and other mediums for pain relief.
As it appears in the illicit market, though, fentanyl is really a category for several synthetic opioids that function similarly. “We talk about fentanyl … but there are literally dozens of compounds out there that really belong in a class called fentanyls — fentanyl plural,” David Juurlink, a doctor who studies the opioid epidemic at the University of Toronto.
So it’s not just fentanyl that’s causing a spike in overdose deaths. It’s also analogs like carfentanil, which has also drawn media attention as it’s appeared in the illicit drug market. Carfentanil is typically used as a sedative for large animals like elephants. Its use is widely considered too dangerous for humans; the Associated Press even described it as a “chemical weapon” because several countries, including the US, have actually prepared for its potential use in war.
Unlike heroin, fentanyl and its analogs can be made fairly easily in a lab. That makes fentanyl far cheaper to produce, without the hassle of growing opium poppy and then converting the poppy into morphine and then into heroin.
Over the past few years, fentanyl and its analogs have appeared in the streets, often laced into the illicit heroin supply. Law enforcement officials believe that most of this fentanyl comes from labs in China, where it’s produced without the supervision of US drug regulators and law enforcement officials who would very much like the drug to stop going to illegal recreational uses.
The drug is then shipped from China to the US, typically through Latin America. Along the way, it’s cut into heroin by drug traffickers and dealers, who can then make more money out of their newly cut heroin since it will have more kick for a lower dose.
Generally, fentanyl is described as anywhere from 40 to 100 times more potent than morphine and several times more potent than heroin. While it’s hard to get any good numbers for potency, Juurlink believes these descriptions are broadly accurate for fentanyl.
The measurement “is somewhat subjective,” he said. “People metabolize these drugs differently, so there’s always going to be variability. So whenever you hear a firm number, there’s always a fudge factor; it’s really an estimate.” But he added, “It’s probably pretty fair. In a hospital, I would give somebody 10 milligrams of morphine but only 0.1 milligrams of fentanyl.”
One way to understand just how potent fentanyl can be: It often negates naloxone, an antidote used to reverse opioid overdoses. While first responders can typically use one dose of naloxone to save someone’s life if she’s overdosing on common painkillers or heroin, they’ve found that multiple doses of naloxone can be needed to fight back a fentanyl overdose.
Now, none of this is to say that fentanyl is the only threat in the illicit opioid market. Heroin, by itself, is also pretty dangerous. Just look at the tens of thousands of deaths linked to it before fentanyl made a big entrance to the drug market in the past few years.
But fentanyl is more potent, and that makes it more likely to cause an overdose.
One of the things that makes these drugs so deadly is very often drug users don’t seek them out, instead buying heroin that turns out to be laced with potent fentanyl or one of its analogs. So a heroin user will try the same dose he’s always tried, only to end up overdosing because of the unexpected fentanyl adding far more than he can handle.
But sometimes drug users deliberately take these drugs. Prince, for one, overdosed on fentanyl he was reportedly taking for medical purposes, although he was struggling with drug addiction at the time of his death.
And there have been a few reports of drug users seeking out these drugs, sometimes because they find out that the drugs are leading to more overdoses and figure that, therefore, they must be really potent.
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