Why We’re Concerned About the Fentanyl Epidemic

Diamond shaped warning sign for FENTANYL stock photo

In March 2023, Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) reported that “the total number of opioid-related overdose deaths in Georgia increased by 101 percent from 853 in 2019 to 1,718 in 2021.” In some counties, such as Bibb, Crawford, Monroe, and Peach, deaths were twice that percentage in the same time period. The primary dangerous drug now is fentanyl, an opioid, which is particularly deadly when laced with other chemicals. 

The Rise of the Fentanyl Epidemic

Similar to other opiates, fentanyl jams chemical signaling for regulating pain and pleasure, overproducing dopamine. This neurotransmitter is responsible for moderating areas of the brain responsible for attention span, mood regulation, and reward-seeking behavior. 

Fentanyl abuse desensitizes the brain to any other forms of pleasure, so in an effort to capture the high, an individual develops more compulsive behavior. If other risk factors are present—such environmental stressors and heredity—this heightens the likelihood of rapidly developing fentanyl addiction.

Here are more facts about fentanyl

  • “Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but is 50–to–100 times more potent,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse
  • Although authentic prescription fentanyl does have an authorized medical use for pain management, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) currently classifies it as a Schedule II narcotic, indicating it has a greater rate of abuse and physical or psychological dependence. 
  • In 2022, the DEA also issued a public safety alert that warned six out of ten fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills contain a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl—and about the deadly consequences of Xylazine and fentanyl drug mixtures. Xylazine is a non-opioid veterinary tranquilizer and not approved for human medical use. Because xylazine is not an opioid, naloxone (Narcan) cannot reverse its effects.
  • The DEA also reports that criminal cartels in Mexico “using chemicals largely sourced from China, are primarily responsible for the vast majority of the fentanyl that is being trafficked in communities across the United States.”

Unfortunately, the overall opioid epidemic is still a concern, especially due to an ongoing lack of Naloxone. 

An epidemic is often classified by an unexpected increase in a disease within a specific geographical area. According to the National EMS Information System, Georgia is one of many states in the Southeast with a higher than average rate of non-fatal opioid overdoses as of June 2023. The phrase “non-fatal” may sound like a good thing, but it’s still an indication of extensive drug abuse and poisoning. Alabama is one of only three states in the U.S. with a much higher than average rate. Approximately two-thirds of these types of drug overdoses are now attributed to fentanyl. Others include fentanyl derivatives, cocaine, and heroin.

In April 2023, GPB indicated that Atlanta is a major hub for East Coast fentanyl drug trafficking. In May 2023, WMAZ in Macon reported that across the country, fentanyl kills someone approximately every eight minutes, and roughly 175 people die daily due to fentanyl overdoses. A lethal dose can be as small as a pencil eraser—what’s worse, people often unknowingly consume fentanyl, which contributes to overdoses. 

By press time in 2023, the DEA seized nearly 40 million fentanyl pills and thousands of pounds of fentanyl powder, according to the agency’s One Pill Can Kill program. “In 2022, DEA seized more than 58.4 million fentanyl-lace fake pills and more than 13,000 pounds of fentanyl powder. The 2022 seizures are equivalent to more than 387.6 million lethal doses of fentanyl.” 

Building Awareness of the Fentanyl Epidemic and Taking Action

DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said, “Fentanyl is the single deadliest drug threat our nation has ever encountered. From large metropolitan areas to rural America, no community is safe from this poison. We must take every opportunity to spread the word to prevent fentanyl-related overdose deaths and poisonings.”

The DEA also notes that drug is “involved in more deaths of Americans under 50 than any cause of death, including heart disease, cancer, homicide, suicide and other accidents.” The agency has developed a National Fentanyl Awareness Day in May, an effort that aims to educate the public and legislators about fentanyl dangers and provide access to essential resources. 

In Georgia, there are numerous initiatives to help prevent drug abuse and overdoses including, but not limited to: 

  • Georgia Harm Reduction Coalition
  • Georgia Overdose Prevention
  • The Alcohol & Substance Abuse Prevention Project
  • Voices for Prevention
  • Drugs Don’t Work
  • Red Ribbon Campaign

Comprehensive Fentanyl Treatment in Georgia

Willingway’s inpatient rehabilitation facility is located in Statesboro, GA, but our clients come from near and far to receive effective treatment for fentanyl addiction, as well as other substances and alcohol. We treat addiction as a brain disease, and our medical and clinical team know how to partner with individuals who have used almost all combinations and amounts of mood-altering chemicals, including alcohol, prescription drugs, methadone, street drugs, and others. Our board-certified professionals also have the ability to address anxiety, depression, PTSD, OCD, mood disorders, and other general emotional problems.

Depending on the level of addiction, the first stage of fentanyl treatment might be medically supervised detoxification. Then, a continuum of care plan—customized to fit each individual’s specific needs—may feature various methods to create a path to recovery. If you or a loved one needs focused, compassionate opioid treatment right away, call us anytime, day or night.