Q. Last week’s seizure of 1.8 million counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl sounds massive but is this just the tip of the iceberg?
A. I’m not going to pretend I know ANYTHING about drug interdiction – aside from the word “interdiction” and what it means, but it would seem to me that if, as reported, the DEA launched its effort on August 3 and came up with all these drugs two months later says that, yeah, it’s the tip of the iceberg because I don’t believe the DEA could have gotten that lucky in two months. But, again, I’m no expert in interdiction nor do I even understand how it’s done.
Q. How prevalent are these illicit drugs here in our community?
A. Very prevalent. I think the subtext of the report is that there’s a market for these illegal drugs. This isn’t a market for people like me, who would take my coworker’s migraine medication that she received through a doctor’s prescription. This is a market for drugs that someone is buying from someone else, not expecting it to be prescribed. I would never accept a pill from someone who said, “Well, I’m not prescribed this, but I know where to get it. Want one?” Would you? The sheer numbers from the bust as well as the number of toxicity deaths we’re seeing in Kenosha County, 49 in 2020 compared to 30 in 2019 and 46 in 2018 as reported by our Medical Examiner’s Office, indicates that the market is robust everywhere; this isn’t a rural/suburban/city problem. It’s a problem everywhere, and our little corner of the Midwest is no different.
Q. Last week the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration did something that it hasn’t done in over a half of a decade, it issued a public safety alert. Reading between the lines what does this tell us?
A. Houston, we have a problem. The DEA launched a new website to educate communities, www.dea.gov/onepill
, and they’ve come up with a fact sheet for sharing. The concern is that people will buy drugs because they believe they are actual prescription drugs, so the simplest message is “Don’t trust your local drug dealer.” At the Hope Council on Alcohol & Other Drug Abuse, Inc., we try to help people understand that “drug dealers” aren’t the folks you see in allies. They are the kids you see in school. They are your coworkers. They are even your family members. And they don’t know where the drugs are coming from any more than you do!
DEA authorities are saying that many of these counterfeit pills are being manufactured in Mexico. The shear number of pills confiscated begs the question, how are these pills being manufactured, are they made in small clandestine back room labs or is there something much bigger going on?
Years ago I was at a training, like facilitated by a DEA representative, and he had photos of labs in Mexico; they looked just like pharmaceutical companies. However, the Mexican government had started a crackdown on those types of labs so many of the labs are more clandestine these days…but still huge operations.
Q. Can you tell us about the deadly source ingredient, fentanyl that is responsible for so many deaths? Is China primarily responsible for this deadly export and why?
A. China is manufacturing most of the fentanyl we’re seeing in the US and much of it being used in Mexico. It’s cheap, easy to ship, and I’m guessing – again without any empirical data – that the labs in China aren’t being run to the exacting standards that they are in the US, so it’s easier to manufacture something illegal. In 2016 the US Government reported that “While Mexican cartels produce the majority (around 90 percent) of meth used in the United States, around 80 percent of precursor chemicals used in Mexican meth come from China.” (www.uscc.gov/
That’s really a significant import from China!
Q. Here in our community when it comes to fentanyl how deadly was 2020? Is there a specific age group or demographic that has been hit the hardest?
A. The Kenosha County Medical Examiner’s Office reported 49 toxicity deaths in 2020, which is a huge increase over 2019 deaths, and of those deaths in 2020, 38 were opioid-related, and the majority of those were fentanyl. But, don’t let deaths be the only consideration. We’ve had lots of overdoses that, thankfully, didn’t end in death due to the lifesaving nature of NARCAN. NARCAN is easy to use and free from the Kenosha County Division of Health. Call 262-605-6741
or email firstname.lastname@example.org
When it comes to deadly overdose deaths has heroin taken a back seat?
Yeah…which is really sad because in the measly 12+ years I’ve been back at the Hope Council, since 2009, I’ve seen these huge spikes in use of substances, and our societal response seems to be getting more and more inured. In 2009 cocaine was bad; no one talked about using cocaine as a recreational drug. It’s not like that anymore. And then heroin used to be the biggest concern. Now we’re talking about fentanyl and methamphetamines. In fact, back in the day, a “speedball” was cocaine and heroin; now it’s meth and fentanyl.
Q. Besides fake prescription pills what else is fentanyl showing up in?
A. It’s in everything that is mixed. It’s been reported as showing up in marijuana, but that may not be true. I think it’s likely that is literally an old wives’ tale…a story that a mother, any parent or loved one, would say caused the death or overdose of a loved one because no one wants to believe that the loved one is using anything more than weed. And yet…fentanyl is still showing up in heroin, meth, cocaine, manufactured pills. Again, don’t trust your local drug dealer.
Q. What can you say about marijuana, how much more potent is it compared to the ’60s and ’70s?
A. We can extract THC that is around 90% pure, but good, old weed is now reported to be four to five times stronger than that of the 1960s. But, because of the scheduling of marijuana, schedule 1, meaning the federal government maintains that it has a high potential for abuse and no medical value, our government hasn’t allowed much research, so there are people who say this more potent marijuana is a myth. So I go back to my original point here: that doesn’t matter because nearly pure THC can be extracted and smoked, so I don’t have to worry about potency of a joint.
Q. As Executive Director of the Hope Council on Alcohol & Other Drug Abuse, Inc., do you ever feel as though you are losing the fight? Has this problem reached a point in time that you wonder if there is a solution, that we may be beyond a point of no return?
A. I get really frustrated that we spend so much energy worrying about opioids, but alcohol is killing more people every day. I realized recently that I’ve been addressing Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders for 30 years…since my first stint at the Council…and I feel as though we’ve made zero inroads and was actually told by a bunch of prevention specialists that it’s uncomfortable to talk about FASDs.
But, you know the story about the starfish, right…? Kid walks along a beach, picking up starfish, throwing them back into the ocean. An old man comes along and asks the kid, “Why bother? There are so many starfish dying on the beach, you’re not gonna make a difference.” And the kid picks up another one, throws it into the ocean and says, “Made a difference for that one.” I am NOT gonna lie: THAT is my mantra. When I put in test results and see that our clients have adhered to a period of abstinence that we ordered during their Driver Safety Plans, I say aloud, “Made a difference for THAT one.” When I see the positive changes in clients over time, I think, “Made a difference for THAT one.” When former clients reach out to check in, I think, “Made a difference for THAT one.” I don’t pretend that it’s because of me. They have to wanna, but we know that treatment works, and recovery is possible.