Heartland prepares for opioid crisis


Fentanyl is a big city problem that small towns fear will trickle down to residents.

The drug is mostly used for patients under anesthesia and prescribed in patch form, absorbed through the skin, to dying patients to make chronic pain bearable.

"[Patients] who are on very high doses become tolerant over time and need something to overcome that, so that's where fentanyl comes in," said Scotland County Hospital Pharmacy Manager Nicholas Herrmann.

Fentanyl is packaged under a "black box label." This is the Food and Drug Administration's strongest label.

An illegal, lab-made, powder form is coming to the United States from China, through Mexico's borders and down the roadways of the U.S.

Scotland County Coroner Jeff Davis said drug dealers are lacing other drugs such a heroin and marijuana with fentanyl without the user's knowledge.

"A heroin user that's been a heroin user for 10 years ... They could take one dose, one time not knowing there was fentanyl, and that be it," said Davis.

It takes a small amount to cause a person to overdose, and mortality statistics are not completely accurate. Davis, who has seen only one opioid death in Scotland County, said this is because the drug is not routinely tested in toxicology screenings.

"It is not as big of a problem as it is in St. Louis or Kansas City, but it's only because currently the availability of the product. I think the more it becomes available, the more dangerous it will be," said Davis.

Davis said there is no certain demographic affected by fentanyl. If a patient was prescribed the drug and is taken off it, a habit can develop.

"If you're not going through insurance and through your doctor anymore, you know what are you going to pay for. You're going to find the cheapest thing that is out there to take care of your fix, to take care of the habit you've developed," said Davis.

Davis said people have gone as far as chewing the patch due to the addiction.

According to Herrmann, children have also overdosed due to patches not being properly discarded.

Drug overdoses are estimated to have killed over 59,000 people in 2016. This is more deaths than peak annual deaths from HIV, car crashes or gun violence.

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