Dangers of Illegal Fentanyl: Opioid Epidemic Growing Statewide
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – The opioid epidemic continues to spread nationally, and it’s even growing right here in South Dakota.
Attorney General Marty Jackley has presented a bill that’ll strengthen drug laws after four overdose deaths, three of them fentanyl related, are being investigated as manslaughter. Earlier this month, two inmates at the Minnehaha County Jail nearly died from an opioid overdose. Which drug they took is still under investigation, but according to the sheriff, the amount that was brought in to the jail was likely no bigger than a fingernail. These are just a few instances that raise concerns about how dangerous these opioids really are.
“Oh it’s very powerful. It is very powerful,” says Dan Peterson of Dan’s Drug Store.
Fentanyl is an opioid used to reduce chronic and cancer pain. It’s 100 times more powerful than morphine. It’s also known for taking the life of the iconic American singer & songwriter Prince.
Peterson only carries the patch form. He says its strengths vary from 12-100 micrograms.
“If you’re talking micrograms it’s going to be very difficult to see. I think a grain of salt is typically 20-30 milligrams, so in a microgram my guess is you’re not going to be able to see it,” says Peterson.
However there is no legal limit on prescribing fentanyl. Officials say it’s based on the patient’s tolerance and prescribers should use the lowest possible dose for the shortest amount of time.
One of the biggest dangers of using fentanyl illegally is the unknown of what someone’s consuming.
“Where people who are addicted to that medication and they will seek that medication out and many times they don’t know what they are getting in that powder or in that pill,” says Dr. Craig Uthe of Sanford.
Fentanyl can be ingested, injected or snorted and the side effects are instantaneous.
“Their body is not used to it, so they think they’re going to get the effects of the euphoria, the high, the relaxation when actually it’s going to be much more potent than what their body can tolerate, and you get the respiration depression and you will stop breathing,” says Dr. Uthe.
It doesn’t even take much to be lethal. Peterson says an amount equivalent to two or three grains of salt could be fatal for a person.
Fentanyl isn’t the strongest opioid. Carfentanil is 100 times stronger, but we don’t have to worry about addiction with this opioid because it is too strong to build a tolerance for. Dr. Uthe says it’s used as an animal tranquilizer and is not approved for humans in any capacity.
South Dakota averages 40 opioid overdose deaths a year, but there was a spike in 2016 with 51 deaths. The numbers for 2017 have not yet been released.