The abuse of fentanyl is a public health crisis. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug overdose deaths rose from 2019 to 2020 with 91,799 drug overdose deaths reported in 2020. Deaths involving synthetic opioids (primarily fentanyl) continued to rise with 56,516 overdose deaths reported in 2020.
Pharmaceutical fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, it was developed for pain management treatment of cancer patients and is also used for treating severe pain. It is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It is prescribed in the form of transdermal patches or lozenges. Fentanyl can be misused or abused. Illegally made fentanyl is the reason for most overdoses. Recently, reports of rainbow fentanyl pills have been circulating on the internet. According to Senator Shelley Capito, fake pills laced with fentanyl that look like candy are being spread in an effort to lure young Americans.
On January 4, 2017, the Brockport Police Department hosted a community forum to fight back against a growing drug epidemic that was fueling violent crime. The forum came after a home invasion the month before that police say was caused by drug abuse.
Investigator Tyler Dawson believes that the drug epidemic is still growing. With fentanyl becoming more common the Brockport Police department is trained in ways to prevent overdoses, including how to use Narcan, a naloxone nasal spray used to reverse the effects of an overdose.
“Each officer carries Narcan and is trained to administer it for any overdose call. It’s actually been used at least three times in the last month. I could even say we have used it three times on one person in month’s spans. It does get used rather frequently,” said Dawson.
Dawson believes that the fentanyl making the drugs stronger is the bigger issue. With the many different drugs that can be laced with fentanyl it makes it harder to combat.
“The issue we are having with fentanyl is that it is now getting mixed into other drugs. You have not only heroin that fentanyl is mixed in to, but we see it mixed in with marijuana, cocaine, and a new drug to our area; methamphetamine. It also gives the drug dealers a stronger product than those not cutting it with fentanyl, so it has people wanting to come back because it’s more potent,” said Dawson
Jordan Dywan, a Resident Assistant [RA] in Briggs Hall at SUNY Brockport, says that all RAs have to be trained on how to administer Narcan.
“We had a seminar during RA training, two weeks prior to school starting on how to use Narcan and how to tell if someone is overdosing. We were told that if ever see someone and if it’s even a thought they might be overdosing we are supposed to use the Narcan regardless, because it can’t really have any negative effects,” said Dywan.
According to the Mayo Clinic, naloxone can have side effects but most won’t need medical attention and should go away. Dywan believes the Narcan is too hard to access, mainly because Brockport only wants people who are trained to administer Narcan.
“The Narcan should be kept in a more open location, because someone who has a friend overdosing might be scared to call the RA. If there is no RA at the desk it could take away crucial time while going down to get the Narcan, instead of it being in the lobby open to anyone,” said Dywan.
Monroe County officials announced in October, two initiatives to combat the opioid crisis. The first initiative is a communications campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of fentanyl through targeted advertising in communities experiencing high levels of overdose and overdose fatalities. The second initiative is an online map that gives locations of installed Naloxone boxes at various businesses throughout the county and where to get trained on Naloxone, a medication that can save someone overdosing on opioids.
The communication campaign will use social media, PSAs, billboards, event participation and street level outreach to raise awareness and ways to prevent an overdose. Some of those ways include knowing the signs, how to respond to an overdose, and getting trained on Naloxone.
The online map will show the location of each Naloxone box at local businesses installed by Monroe County, shown as a green symbol. Each box contains 12 doses of Naloxone and instructions to administer the lifesaving medication to individuals experiencing an overdose. The map will also provide locations on where Naloxone training is offered, shown as a red symbol.
“I think that the people are doing a good job with handing out the Narcan and naloxone. The only problem with it is that if an overdose does happen and naloxone is administered by someone that is with them, they might not call 911. Our statistics can be skewed and lower than they actually are,” said Dawson.
Brockport Police try to help those who are using drugs get treatment but also stop the drugs from being distributed.
“Our goal is to never go after the people using the drugs but the people that are selling the drugs. If they can’t sell it then people can’t use it. There is a reactive approach of getting the medication out there to combat the overdoses versus a proactive approach of taking out the dealers at the higher levels,” said Dawson.
Although the drug epidemic rages on, the war against it does as well. With new initiatives in place to help prevent overdoses, Monroe County Officials and Brockport Police are doing what they can to make a difference.