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Friday, June 10, 2016
Fentanyl. The man-made opioid is 50 times stronger than heroin and up to 100 times more powerful than morphine. In Massachusetts last year alone, 754 opioid-related overdose deaths had a positive screen for fentanyl. That is more than 50 percent of opioid-related overdose deaths.
On June 3, Sen. Ed Markey gathered government officials, first responders and MGHers Peter L. Slavin, MD, MGH president and Sarah Wakeman, MD, medical director for Substance Use Disorders, for a roundtable discussion in the Richard B. Simches Research Center about the increasingly fatal opioid epidemic.
During the forum, Markey stressed the need for increased treatment options and a nationwide crackdown on drug smuggling. “Fentanyl is the Godzilla of opioids and it is coming for us,” said Markey. “In fact, a dose of just three salt-sized grains of fentanyl can be lethal.” He says he hopes there will be a national conversation about the dangers of this drug. Gil Kerlikowske, commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, detailed efforts to curb foreign fentanyl trafficking particularly from China and Mexico.
The discussion also featured Michael Ferguson, special agent in charge of New England Drug Enforcement Administration; Myechia Minter-Jordan, MD, MBA, president and CEO of The Dimock Center; John Rosenthal, co-founder of the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative and Kaitlyn Oberle, a treatment advocate who lost a brother to an opioid overdose.
Ferguson and Rosenthal spoke on the dangers of fentanyl, which can be absorbed through the skin and breathed in – both of which can be fatal not just to users, but first responders as well. “Users often don’t know the strength of what they are ingesting.They’re really playing Russian roulette with each injection,” Rosenthal said. “More people will die in the U.S. in the upcoming year of fentanyl overdose than from automobile accidents.”
Wakeman and others in the discussion stressed that opioid users have a disease and need to be treated for it, not arrested or treated as criminals. Just as a patient with heart disease or cancer would get continued treatments, the same holds true for opioid users.
“I’m proud that here at the MGH we’ve been fighting this epidemic for years,” said Slavin. “But the more I dig into this issue, the more shocked I become. We stand to learn a lot from others and must continue to learn, discuss and fight against this growing epidemic.”
Read more articles from the 06/10/16 Hotline issue.
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