Public Comment

Drug Deaths: Who Is Overdosing Who?

Harry Brill
Friday August 23, 2019 - 02:48:00 PM

The San Francisco Chronicle recently reported that deaths in San Francisco from taking fentanyl, which is a popular synthetic drug, increased from 2017 to 2018 by 150 percent. In fact, the increase in drug related deaths in the United States to over 70,000 annually is mainly due to the growing use of fentanyl. This drug was developed to relieve severe pain. Among those who benefit are terminally ill patients and those who experience serious pain after surgery. But its advantage, unfortunately, is for many recipients a disadvantage as well. The drug is very potent. Fentanyl is about 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more than heroin. But many who take the drug cannot physically tolerate such high doses. 

However, there is much more than the potency of the drug that kills. Very troubling has been the role of the pharmaceutical companies. For a long while the pharmaceuticals were falsely assuring the medical profession that there was no risk of addiction. As a result, many healthcare professionals have been over-prescribing the drug.  

Also, to make an easy and substantial profit while ignoring health and safety concerns, some manufacturers make fentanyl illegally in clandestine labs. Without notifying the public or any authorities, these merchants of death often mix heroin with fentanyl, which is much cheaper but more potent than other drugs. But many users think they are purchasing heroin without realizing they are also buying the much more powerful fentanyl, which has been responsible for many overdose deaths.  

In fact, both the adverse impact of fentanyl and the low cost to produce the drug have encouraged some public officials to advocate its use for prisoners who have been sentenced to death. Fentanyl was used last year to execute a prisoner in Nebraska. Public officials in Nevada wanted to do the same but they were blocked by a judge. However, a public official in Ohio has been seeking to pass a state law that would allow the less expensive fentanyl to be generally used for executions rather than deciding to do so on a case by case basis. Among the official's motives is to increase the number of executions. 

To claim that drug overdoses can kill is no exaggeration. But it is a serious mistake to mainly blame drug users for their own demise. Many in the medical profession as well as drug manufacturers do not even inform those who use drugs of the serious risks they confront. Currently, a Santa Rosa neurologist faces murder charges for killing five patients by over-prescribing drugs. Incredibly, he often prescribed regularly the maximum dosage which included 300 pills per prescription! 

But charging one doctor is not enough. Other members of the healthcare profession as well as some manufacturers who are suspected of endangering the life and the well being of those who take these drugs should be investigated, and if appropriate they should be charged as well.