Alliance for Better Communities uses the first National Fentanyl Awareness Day to further its mission of providing resources to the community | Health issues

WATERTOWN — The first National Fentanyl Awareness Day took place on Tuesday.

Anita K. Seefried-Brown, project director for the Alliance for Better Communities, didn’t even know about it until Monday, but she quickly took the opportunity to educate locals about the fentanyl problem and at the alarming rate at which drug-related deaths occur.

Fentanyl is a potent and often deadly synthetic drug that is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. Many people lost their lives there unintentionally. National Fentanyl Awareness Day was founded by parents who have lost loved ones to drugs and who hope to save other families from the same fate.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea to dedicate a special day to national awareness of fentanyl, simply because fentanyl has been the leading cause of death for several years now,” Ms Seefried-Brown said. “In April of this year, we hit the milestone of over 100,000 overdose deaths and fentanyl, again nationally, was the leading cause of death. And when I looked at the Jefferson County stats, unfortunately Jefferson County’s opioid-related deaths are also due to fentanyl.

While fentanyl and/or its analogs were rarely found in fatal toxicology reports between 2000 and 2015, fentanyl and/or its analogs were present in more than 60% of toxicology reports of overdose deaths between 2016 and today, according to the Jefferson County Medical Examiner’s Office. According to the Centers for Disease Control, fentanyl analogues such as acetylfentanyl, furanylfentanyl, and carfentanil have a similar chemical structure to fentanyl, but are not routinely detected because specialized toxicology testing is needed.

A total of 145 people have lost their lives from 2016 to date due to drug overdoses, including 104 deaths caused by opioids, according to the Alliance. Of these, 104, 93, or 89.4% were due to poisoning with fentanyl and/or an analogue.

“What we need to educate the community about is that teens and young adults are ordering prescription drugs online,” Ms Seefried-Brown said. “This is a very interesting development, as the pills look exactly like the real deal, but in fact they are fake pills. They are pressed and sharp to look like the real Oxycontin, the real Xanax pill, and in 40% of cases of these fake pills, they are adulterated with fentanyl.

She noted that parents are baffled that their children and teens who have never used drugs regularly are suddenly dying from fentanyl poisoning, and organizations need to let communities know that these fake pills exist. They are readily available by ordering online, there are virtually no restrictions for ordering the drugs, and they can be fatal the first time they are used.

The Alliance for Better Communities has worked tirelessly to address the opioid crisis in Jefferson County. The organization hosts community awareness and engagement events in various neighborhoods and provides secure medication boxes and Deterra bags, environmentally friendly medication deactivation systems for unused or expired medications. Working with community partners, the organization offers Narcan training for overdose reversals and harm reduction kits, which include fentanyl test strips that can be used to test for the presence of the substance in other recreational drugs and potentially save a user from an unintentional overdose.

“It’s easy, it helps save lives,” Ms Seefried-Brown said of the tests. “It empowers the user and we are talking about two different audiences – one audience is the population of teenagers and young adults who order online, receive fake pills that can cost them their lives, and the other audience is people with substance use disorders who would benefit from being able to test the substance they are about to use using fentanyl test strips.

If the fentanyl test strips indicate that fentanyl is indeed present, this allows the person to make different choices. Ms Seefried-Brown said harm reduction at its best is to reduce the risk of death while providing pathways to treatment and recovery, and treatment and recovery can only be offered to people who are still alive, which is why harm reduction is such an important tool in the toolbox.

Community residents can receive a free harm reduction kit in three ways:

— Visit the Alliance on the third floor of the Marcy Building, 167 Polk Street, Suite 320

— Visit the window of the Metro Jeff Safety Building, 753 Waterman Drive

— Ask a local police officer or sheriff on patrol for a kit no questions asked, no records kept

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