Fentanyl is the most dangerous illegal drug in the United States, according to the Rand Corporation, an international public policy thinktank. The Rand Corporation published the most comprehensive study on the opioid crisis to date in 2019, a study that concluded that fentanyl was the driving drug behind the opioid calamity. Understanding the fentanyl crisis in the United States necessitates a consideration of a number of important facts and factors. 

The conclusion reached by the Rand Corporation is that the fentanyl crisis in the United States should not be thought of as a traditional drug epidemic. Rather, the Rand Corporation has concluded that the fentanyl crisis needs to be thought of as a mass poisoning. 

Primary Drivers Behind Fentanyl Crisis

There are three primary drivers behind the fentanyl crisis in the United States:

  • Fentanyl is highly potent
  • Fentanyl is widely available
  • Fentanyl is relatively inexpensive

Fentanyl is a highly potent drug. It is highly addictive and incredibly dangerous. Fentanyl is about 100 times more powerful than morphine and approximately 50 times more powerful than heroin. Fentanyl underpins a significantly large percentage of opioid overdoes in California and across the United States in this day and age. 

Unlike some other types of drugs, fentanyl is considered to be widely available. The stark reality is that if a person is interested in obtaining fentanyl from an illegal source, that objective is generally fairly easy to meet. 

Finally, when contrasted with other drugs – including heroin and cocaine – fentanyl tends to be noticeably less expensive. In other words, people turn to fentanyl because it is more affordable. They can obtain more of a highly potent drug for less money by using fentanyl. 

Common Pathway to Fentanyl Use, Abuse, and Addiction 

One pathway to fentanyl use, abuse, and addiction involves people who were prescribed opioid medications by their physicians to address pain. Ultimately, physicians may be unwilling to provide an opioid painkiller any longer. When that happens, a person who abuses or has become addicted to prescription opioids will turn to illicit or illegal options like heroin or fentanyl.

In some cases, heroin proves to be something of a gateway to an individual turning to fentanyl. In other situations, a person who has been abusing or is addicted to opioid painkillers may elect to use fentanyl as a replacement opioid. 

There are other scenarios in which people use heroin that has been laced with fentanyl. Fentanyl is used to cut heroin in order to make heroin more potent, to provide a user with a more powerful high. In many cases, a heroin user doesn’t realize that the drug has been laced with fentanyl. This process can end up with a heroin user unknowingly developing not only a heroin addiction but a fentanyl one as well. 

Traditional Drug Interdictions Do Not Work With Fentanyl

As part of its research, the Rand Corporation considered the process by which other drugs like cocaine and meth became fairly well entrenched among certain drug users. Over time, with a concerted effort on the part of public health officials and drug addiction specialists, the incidence of these types of drug use was able to be lowered. 

Considering the outbreak of fentanyl use in different countries the world over, an important distinction has been discovered between mind-altering substances like cocaine and meth, there is no example of fentanyl use, abuse, and addiction being lessened in the same type of manner. For example, Estonia has had an illicit fentanyl maker for 20 years. The broad use of fentanyl in this nation has not been able to be contained, which is the same experience across the globe – including in the United States. 

Strategies to Combat the Fentanyl Crisis in the United States

The Rand Corporation has recommended that a concerted effort should be taken in the United States, and elsewhere, to combat the fentanyl crisis. This conclusion was reached despite the historic track record thus far available in regard to fentanyl use, abuse, and addiction.

A primary strategy to implement to combat fentanyl is to expand treatment availability for people with opioid addiction. This includes a reconsideration of the manner in which people with addictions are addressed in the criminal justice system.

In addition, in order to fight fentanyl and other opioid overdoses, naloxone should be more widely available. Naloxone is a medication that inhibits the action of an opioid drug in a person’s body. The injection of naloxone can prove to be a life-saving agent.

An interruption of the flow of fentanyl is also an important element of a comprehensive strategy to combat fentanyl use, abuse, and addiction in the United States. A great deal of illicit fentanyl is transported through the U.S. Postal Service. 

Finally, in order to get a handle on the fentanyl crisis in the United States, public policy, medical, and addiction recovery specialists are going to need to think outside of the box. For example, about a dozen countries have implemented monitored fentanyl use sites. At these sites, fentanyl is initially administered to a user, abuser, or addict until such time as a participant can be weaned from the drug.