The opioid epidemic is a real tragedy. It has been devastating states like West Virginia, Vermont, and Maine - among others - and it’s been the number one factor in a major incarceration shift that is still seldom discussed by the media.
But as soon as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new set of national standards for prescribing painkillers, yet another deadly drug threat is beginning to concern authorities in certain states.
New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu spoke at a press conference this week, warning that a drug that’s 10,000 times stronger than morphine has made its way into the state. As a result, many first responders have been left scrambling to find a way to handle this new threat.
Carfentanil, a powerful new opioid, has already claimed three lives.
Engineered to be used as an elephant tranquilizer, the drug’s lethal dosage is 20 micrograms. Since the product can cause deadly effects just by being sprinkled on someone’s skin, authorities are highly concerned.
Manchester Fire’s EMS Director Chris Hickey is warning New Hampshire residents they must be “hyper, hyper vigilant of what is out there, hyper vigilant of where you put your hands, what you come in contact with.”
“There is nothing out there other than going on in hazmat suits on every single overdose that is going to completely protect us. We just have to be super, super careful with it,” Hickey told his own crew.
The drug is so powerful that first responders are even having a hard time reversing overdoses when they arrive at emergency locations.
On one occasion, Hickey said, one of his men had to use six to eight doses of Narcan, an overdose reversal drug, to revive a victim - twice the dose used in most cases.
As doctors and first responders notice a pattern, they are also warning the public that Narcan isn’t going to be enough from now on. So what is next?
Fear, of course.
As state and local authorities find themselves panicking over this issue, many will ask for tougher laws. Federal agencies will then intervene, adding further restrictions to the already heavily regulated drug market in the United States. Adding fuel to the fire, the drug war will continue to target opioids like heroin and opium while Congress continues the process of imposing strict limits on some opioid prescriptions.
As more restrictions are applied, users will have a harder time gaining access to the substances they are already addicted to, forcing them to turn to the black market for their fix.
With this, incidents like the ones we’re seeing in New Hampshire will become even more common, prompting further government involvement. As this snowballs into further restrictions, the opioid epidemic will reach unimaginable levels, killing a record number of people, making orphans out of countless children, and creating another boom in U.S. incarceration rates.
While it’s easy to understand why locals in New Hampshire are afraid, the rhetoric and reality on the ground should not be used to push for more heavy-handed intervention from local and federal governments. Instead, it’s time to look deep into how the opioid crisis started, keeping in mind that the government’s own fruitless battle against drugs was the very root of what is now concerning New Hampshire authorities.
Like New Hampshire’s Drug Lab Director Tim Pifer, we agree that “this is certainly unfortunately just the tip of the iceberg.” But just like any iceberg, its base lies in dark, cold waters. Unless we’re ready to be honest with ourselves, finding the courage to dive deep to find where it begins, we will never know how huge this problem really is. And if we’re not willing to look at the root of the problem, we won’t be able to find a proper solution.