By Miffie Seideman
The other day I found three little blue pills strewn on the ground at my local gas station. As soon as I saw them, my heart skipped. As a pharmacist, I can spot oxycodone tablets a mile away -- little round blue tablets with an “M” imprinted on one side, and “30” on the other.
But the coloring on these were off…just enough.
These were lethal fentanyl-laced counterfeit oxycodone, the pills causing fatal overdoses in high schools and showing up in national headlines. Just one can kill an adult, so imagine what these three could do to a passing kid or dog.
The police confirmed my fears and came to scour the area for more.
Sure, we’re all authors looking for great new plot twists, and this would surely count. But we also need to know the facts about fentanyl for the safety of ourselves and our loved ones.
If not, keep reading. It no longer matters if that person would never touch fentanyl or street oxycodone. Finding those tablets so close to home highlighted that real and present danger for me.
Here are 3 things you need to do regarding fentanyl and opioid overdose dangers:
I asked several authors what they wanted to know most about fentanyl. The top seven answers are below.
Yes, that should scare you. Elephant tranquilizers are ending up in street drugs.
Fentanyl and its cousins are now responsible for the majority of opioid-related overdose deaths:
Well, that’s a tough one. Fentanyl comes in several forms: injection, skin patch, nasal spray, and a lozenge. Illegal fentanyl also comes as a powder.
The real question isn’t what does fentanyl look like, but what are street fentanyl(s) laced into?
It’s a long list, including marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine (‘meth’), heroin, fake Xanax, fake Vicodin, and fake Adderall* (the ADHD drug), among other drugs. Fentanyl powder has been colored, pressed, and imprinted to look almost identical to real oxycodone (OxyContin). This so-called “Mexican Oxy” is what I found at the gas station. (*Fake Adderall has also contained lethal amounts of methamphetamine).
Why is fentanyl so dangerous?
It’s great for severe pain, during surgery, and some cancer pain. But it does need to be measured carefully, since just 2 mg can be fatal to an adult.
Drug traffickers aren’t exactly worried about careful measuring- they get paid all the same. Some street doses have very little fentanyl. Some have been found with 5 mg of fentanyl in a single tablet- more than twice a lethal dose. With carfentanil, a dose the size of a grain of salt can be lethal. How are they going to measure that safely?
It’s all marketing and profit. If traffickers add the right amount, the fentanyl gives the drugs a bigger kick, a bigger high, and it’s cheap to add. A bigger high also raises demand. Users just hope they get a great high. Some are willing to buy it knowing the risk of a poorly measured batch. In some cases, fentanyl leftover from a previous counterfeit batch contaminates a new batch made in the same container.
In the US, most of these supplies come across the Southern border. Some comes from China. From there, supplies flow to other markets in the US.
Buyers and sellers can even connect via social media apps and subgroups, using special emojis.
It could be in the heroin they bought. It could be in the pain pill the football player bums from a friend so he can make it through the game. It could be in the weed at a weekend party.
Or little Timmy could pick up a little blue-grey tablet off the ground at the gas station while Mom is turned away for a second or two.
Much more than is being stopped. If you have a strong countenance (or a good glass of scotch), do a quick google search of your own state. I did that for Arizona and the data was pretty sobering:
The National Institute for Drug Addiction has sobering statistics for 8th graders (Yes, that’s 8th grade – 13 year-olds!):
ANY of these drugs could have been fentanyl-laced.
Share the dangers of drug use. Let them know they can talk with you openly about drugs, what they see at school, and ask their questions without judgment. Let them know that door is open, even if they make a mistake and try drugs. They need to know you will be there to help them.
If that door is closed, they will go somewhere else.
My family and friends know they can call if they are in or near this kind of danger or have had too much to drink. We will come get them any time of day or night. We won’t judge. We just want them alive. If you offer this, make sure you follow through. Or that door will slam.
The best way to talk to your loved ones is by having at least some basic information. What is going on in your neighborhood? Your local schools? What do those drugs look like and what are the dangers? It’s a bit scary to read at first, but it’s better to know and be prepared.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed. So, pick just a few drugs to get started. I might suggest: oxycodone, fentanyl, Adderall, marijuana, and methamphetamine.
These sites can get you started:
While I am passionate about the drug overdose problem, I’m still a writer at heart!
After the initial shock of finding street oxy (literally on the street) at my regular gas station, I started plotting the incident into a scene.
Is he smoking tainted marijuana? Did he bum some tainted Adderall off another student? Inject fentanyl-laced heroin?
Your character can develop some basic symptoms that evolve over several minutes, including feeling that euphoric ‘high’, difficulty concentrating, and feeling very drowsy. Are you putting the character into lethal peril? Does the reader know the batch was tainted?
This is where you can have you character progress to unconsciousness and more toxic symptoms, with your reader at the edge of their seat.
For additional scene ideas, contemporary news headlines are unfortunately full of drug busts and local cases to pick from. In my own town, street oxy was recently handed out at a teen party. No one knew it was fentanyl-laced until 4 teens died.
Historical searches may also be useful, such as the famous Moscow Theater attack by Chechen rebels in 2002, ultimately resulting in Russian forces releasing carfentanil into air vents, killing about 129 hostages and 33 rebels.
Have you seen this growing fentanyl danger where you live? Have you addressed it in conversation or in the pages of your story? Please share your experiences with us down in the comments!
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Miffie Seideman has been a pharmacist for over 30 years, with a passion for helping others. As a published non-fiction author, her articles have appeared in several professional pharmacy journals. When not training for a race, her writing projects include a (soon to be announced) writer’s handbook and a fantasy adventure that started as “What if Romeo and Juliet didn’t live happily ever after they died?” An avid triathlete, she spends countless hours training in the arid deserts of Arizona, devising new plots.
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