By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Alabama doctors are warning about the grave risk that synthetic opioid fentanyl poses to the public.
Expert physicians recently participated in a Facebook Lice webcast sponsored by the Medical Association of the State of Alabama to discuss the growing problem that has seen deaths rise the last few years especially. They explained that, while physicians sometimes medically prescribe fentanyl to treat severe pain, taking medication not prescribed by a physician and dispensed by someone other than a health care professional is a danger.
“Anyone from anywhere of any age who purchases or obtains a substance that is not from a pharmacy or a health care provider’s office is at risk for fentanyl overdose,” said Dr. Darlene Traffanstedt of the Jefferson County Department of Public Health.
Physicians and addiction experts who took part in the discussion attributed the nation’s recent surge in overdose deaths to the growing availability of the powerful drug.
“100,000 died last year. There’s going to be more this year,” said Richard Tucker, a former Special Agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration who now consults with law enforcement and physicians on drug education efforts.
In Jefferson County alone, Dr. Traffanstedt said there has been a 233 percent increase in fentanyl-related overdose deaths over the past two years.
Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, so even as little as two milligrams can be lethal. It was developed to treat severe pain and for advanced-stage cancer. Because fentanyl is often mixed with other drugs such as heroin, cocaine and marijuana, many users don’t know that they are purchasing fentanyl and overdose deaths can result.
“Fentanyl is the most dangerous drug on our streets and it is everywhere. Just one pill can kill,” said Dr. Julia Boothe, who serves as President of the Medical Association and moderated the discussion on Facebook.
Others participating in the webcast were Ian Henyon, executive director of the Birmingham Recovery Center, and Carie Wimberly, executive director of the Addiction Prevention Coalition.