Alabama medical experts issue fentanyl warning: Do not take any drugs not prescribed by a medical professional – AL.com

No one – in Alabama or elsewhere – should be ingesting any drug not prescribed by a medical professional, a group of health experts said Wednesday during a discussion about illicit fentanyl and its contribution to an explosion of overdose deaths.
“There is a percentage of the population that believes it’s OK to take medication that is not prescribed to you,” said Ian Henyon, executive director of the Birmingham Recovery Center. “We try to educate the families that you need to see a doctor when you need a prescription for something.”
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Counterfeit pills make using someone else’s medication “even riskier.”
For emphasis, he added, “Do not take medication that is not prescribed to you, no matter what.”
Henyon joined other professionals as part of a Facebook Live discussion about deadly synthetic fentanyl. The event was hosted by the Medical Association of the State of Alabama.
Drug traffickers are flooding the United States with Illegal fentanyl in forms such as powders and counterfeit prescription pills linked to many fatal overdoses. The United States Drug Enforcement Administration is warning, "One Pill Can Kill."(Courtesy of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration)
The overriding theme of the discussion was to provide information about a drug contributing to a nationwide surge in overdose deaths.
The discussion also comes at a time when lawmakers in Alabama scramble for solutions and warnings to parents about the growth of illicit fentanyl use. In recent days, for instance, some lawmakers have warned about the circulation of so-called “rainbow fentanyl” that looks like candy, ahead of the holiday season.
The message emphasized by the medical experts was this: Do not take any medicine that is not prescribed by a doctor.
That messaging was amplified last year by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, which released a public service announcement called “One Pill Can Kill.”
“For most people, at some point in life, they borrowed medication from someone else,” said Darlene Traffanstedt of the Jefferson County Health Department. “Five to 10 years ago, that was less of a concern than it is today. If your college roommate purchases something that appears to be a legitimate (pill) and offers to share it with you, it might be the last decision you ever make.”
She said, “If you take a pill that did not come from the pharmacy itself, it could have fentanyl in it.”
Richard Tucker, former special agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and a consultant with the Drug Education Consulting Group, said recently in St. Louis, 500 people overdosed on suspected fentanyl. Of those, 50 percent “did not know what they were taking.”
“They are in social situations, or they were sold a bill of goods that this is OK and won’t hurt you,” Tucker said.
Tucker said that education about the illicit use of the drug is key toward reversing some startling statistics that include:
“For us, it’s an acute crisis of very significant proportions,” she said.
Medical experts say the cause for concern is the potency of the drug, and the fact that it’s mixed with other illicit medication and drugs like methamphetamine and marijuana.
Fentanyl is used legally by doctors to treat severe pain and other advanced-stage cancers. But when it’s used in an unregulated setting or manufactured illegally, a tiny amount – 2 milligrams, for instance, or an amount that can fit on the tip of a pen – can kill someone.
The drug has long been described as 50 times more powerful than heroin, and 100 times more powerful than morphine.
“This stuff is so strong and hits the (brain) receptors so fast,” said Tucker. “For the heroin user, it takes time for the effect (to occur). The fentanyl users are getting an instant euphoria. They want speed and efficiency, and that is what they want in fentanyl.”
A vending machine at the downtown Ann Arbor library in Ann Arbor, Michigan, offers free naloxone kits to reverse opioid overdoses on April 4, 2022. Ryan Stanton | The Ann Arbor News
The drug’s explosive use is leaving professionals scrambling for solutions and seeking ways to educate the public about how to combat it.
In Alabama, state lawmakers are looking for solutions that include punishing traffickers of fentanyl and issuing mandatory-minimum sentences against people to distribute the drug throughout the state.
Said Tucker, “There are smart people in Alabama tackling this. You have the resources. We’ll never arrest ourselves out of this situation. Education and treatment is the only way.”
Traffanstedt noted the accessibility of naloxone, marketed under the brand name Narcan, which is available in pharmacies and free through the Jefferson County Health Department.
Naloxone is a medicine that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose, quickly restores normal breathing to a person if it has slowed or stopped due to the drug use.
Narcan’s popularity has risen within the past year. During Spring Break in South Florida, drug outreach teams distributed Narcan to visitors. Florida is also planning to distribute Narcan nasal sprays to all 67 counties and allow them to be used without oversight of a health provider.
“In the state of Alabama, all barriers are removed to obtaining naloxone,” said Traffanstedt.
Tucker, though, said Narcan is not effective with some other synthetic opioids, like nitazene, that are now in circulation.
He said there are about 15 or so varieties of fentanyl in circulation that are leading to overdose deaths.
“These are chemicals we are not used to dealing with,” Tucker said. “There are different varieties out there now. It’s a horrific drug.”
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