Fentanyl overdose is preventable with drug education | Guest column

by Jody Boulay

Special to the Sounder

October marks National Substance Use Prevention Month, making it an ideal time to ramp up overdose prevention messaging and save lives. Amid the ongoing opioid epidemic, synthetic opioids like fentanyl have become the leading cause of overdose death in the United States.

Local drug education campaigns and organizers in Washington State, along with reliable information about opioids, play a crucial role. With the correct information, fentanyl overdose is preventable, and lives are saved.

There is some critical messaging that should be part of every campaign and effort taken to reach as many people as possible.

Most people know it began with overprescribing prescription pain medications like OxyContin. Marketing campaigns advertised it as safe and effective, resulting in countless addictions and lives lost.

Since the 1990s, the opioid epidemic has gone in waves, beginning with prescription pain medication, then into a resurgence of heroin, and now illicitly manufactured synthetic opioids. Synthetic opioids like fentanyl have been driving a dramatic spike in overdose deaths.

Over the past 15 years, over 17,000 people have died in Washington from a drug overdose over the past 15 years. Approximately 68% of those deaths involved an opioid. Since 2019, the number of opioid-related deaths in the state has doubled.

There is some overdose prevention messaging that should be on repeat and part of every campaign, reaching every community.

For instance, fentanyl is increasingly found in counterfeit prescription pain medication and looks almost identical to the real thing. These pills are commonly sold on social media platforms. Drug dealers use code words and emojis to advertise.

Fentanyl is also found in heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and other illicit drugs. Mixing drugs always increases the chances of a fatal overdose, especially if one of those drugs contains fentanyl.

Naloxone saves lives and is available in all 50 states. It is given as a nasal spray and can reverse an opioid overdose. Finally, people in treatment and recovery need support to reduce the stigma attached to addiction and drug use. Showing compassion for drug users and offering support during treatment and recovery reduces stigma.

Jody Boulay currently works as a Community Outreach Coordinator for Addicted.org to help spread awareness of the dangers of drugs and alcohol.