How to get help: Fentanyl-laced drugs in Maine and NH has advocates urging safety steps – Foster's Daily Democrat

A potentially deadly mix of fentanyl laced drugs appears to be circulating in the region and may be responsible for a spike in overdose deaths, prompting recovery groups to urge caution.
The email, sent last week to the Strafford County Public Heath Network in New Hampshire, cited 27 deaths reported in Maine for the week ending March 13. By now, experts say, there may be more.
To have any degree of certainty about the suspect fentanyl, toxicology reports on the deceased must be completed, and that can take months. In the meantime, the only recourse is caution.
“We stress the importance of public safety, so we are all for helping people learn better ways to care for themselves,” said Robert Prouty, the resident agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Agency office in Portland, Maine. “We know there are tainted batches of fentanyl in the illicit drug trade. The CDC reported over 100,000 overdose deaths in the country over the past 12-month period, 286 a day, one every five minutes. Fentanyl is a driver of those numbers.”
As to the reports of the Maine deaths, Prouty said they are not limited to one Maine county, but are being reported statewide.
“It is a cyclical thing,” said Prouty. “Drug traffickers are deceiving the public. We support the initiative that one pill can kill ( because it’s true. You don’t know what’s in there; there is no quality control in illegal drug trades. These are not prescribed substances, and depending on who is making it, and what they are cutting it with, you are taking your chances.”
Prouty said they are seeing disturbing trends now where fentanyl is being added to other illicit drugs, like meth, cocaine and marijuana. 
“The purpose of this is to drive addiction, to build their (drug dealers’) base,” said Prouty. “For example, say you are a recreational cocaine user, maybe on weekends. Now, if you are using cocaine cut with fentanyl, you can become an opioid addict, and that’s the dealer’s goal. Further, if you are not used to this, it takes only 2 milligrams of fentanyl to be deadly. It is hitting people who are new users, people who relapse and regular users who are not thinking they are doing anything different than they usually do. Again, no quality control and no real way to be sure.”
Palana Hunt Hawkins, a former Rochester city councilor, works with the New Hampshire Harm Reduction Coalition, which offers sterile needle exchange programs in the Tri-City area. 
“We do provide fentanyl test strips,”  Hunt Hawkins said. “We give counseling and referrals when people are open to that. We also have Narcan available, and we stress to people using to do so in groups, with people you know will watch out for you.”
If there is no one to use with, Hunt Hawkins said there is a website Never Use Alone with a nationwide hotline at 800-484-3731, where a volunteer will stay on the line with a person while they use. They take basic information so in the event the person stops responding, local emergency services will be contacted and sent to your location. 
A spokesperson for Hand Up asked to remain anonymous because of the nature of their position interacting with the public. He said the biggest concern is “new users are going to think this is what a normal high looks like” and “end up dead.”
John Burns, executive director of SOS Recovery, said the best action to take is to make sure people who are using are aware of the bad batches and take needed safety precautions like using fentanyl test strips.
“It’s hard because the current drug policies are still about arresting people,” Burns said. “So it can be hard to reach them, but the reality is that people who are using do not want to die. We see them using the test strips, and they carry Narcan for drug reversals, for them and for the people they associate with. We need to look at decriminalization so the people are not using in the shadows. We need better good Samaritan laws so other people are not afraid to help.”
Burns said educating people toward harm reduction is always a good policy.
“I would rather see a story telling people how they can live, rather than see a story about another scary batch of drugs.”


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