By Jody Boulay
Editor’s note: Jody Boulay is a mother of two with a passion for helping others. She currently works as a community outreach coordinator for Addicted.org to help spread awareness of the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
October is National Substance Use Prevention Month, which means more overdose prevention messaging should be sent to every community. There are important messages that should be on repeat for everyone to know.
Amid the ongoing opioid epidemic, synthetic opioids like fentanyl have become the leading cause of overdose deaths in the United States. Local drug education and prevention campaigns and organizers in Vermont, along with reliable information about opioids, are important in saving lives and preventing overdose.
Most people know the opioid epidemic began with overprescribing prescription medications like OxyContin, advertised as safe and effective. Unfortunately, this created one of the worst drug problems in the country’s history.
Since the early 1990s, it has gone in waves involving prescription pain pills like OxyContin, Oxycodone, and Hydrocodone, to a resurgence of heroin in the early 2000s, and now illicitly manufactured synthetic opioids.
Drug cartels have been the leaders in fentanyl production, and most fentanyl is smuggled across the southern border into the U.S.
The Covid-19 pandemic also worsened the epidemic significantly. Border closures and supply chain disruptions meant drug users relied on local suppliers and unknown substances. Lockdowns and social isolation meant countless drug users were using dangerous drugs alone without early intervention, support, or treatment options.
By the end of June 2023, Vermont had had 115 opioid-related deaths. The number of overdose deaths is higher than the three-year average through June. There has also been an increased number of opioid deaths involving non-opioid drugs like xylazine and gabapentin.
Some critical preventive messages can be adapted to reach every audience. Messages warning that fentanyl can be hidden in drugs. Fentanyl is increasingly found in counterfeit prescription pain medication and sold on social media platforms. It is also found in drugs like cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. It’s nearly impossible to tell if drugs have been laced with fentanyl without using fentanyl test strips.
Mixing drugs increases the risk of overdose, especially if one of those drugs contains fentanyl. Mixing stimulants increases the risk of stroke and heart attack. Mixing opioids with other depressants slows breathing and increases the risk of brain damage. Additionally, it is essential to note that Naloxone saves lives and reverses opioid overdose.
It is found in all 50 states, and Good Samaritan laws are in place to help those who are overdosing. Finally, anyone in treatment and recovery needs support; this reduces stigma and encourages more people to seek help.