Fentanyl Deaths in Oklahoma Lead to Felony Murder Charges
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that can be 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. When ingesting fentanyl, it only takes a hit the size of a few grains of salt to potentially trigger an overdose reaction and cause death.
Although pharmaceutical-grade fentanyl is widely prescribed by physicians for pain management – particularly for patients undergoing treatment for cancer – it’s the practice of illicitly using the substance to increase the potency of other drugs sold on the street that often causes overdose deaths at alarming rates.
The hidden threat
There were 107,375 drug overdose deaths in the United States within a 12-month ending in January 2022. Of those deaths, 67% were caused by synthetic opioids, including drugs distributed on the street that users likely do not know contain potentially lethal amounts of fentanyl. Oklahoma has gone after dealers who sell drugs containing fentanyl to unsuspecting users, but the problem has become so pervasive that most measures have barely made a dent.
For example, the state recently brought murder charges against a dealer. The prosecution charged the suspect with felony murder for selling oxycodone pills laced with fentanyl, which caused the death of a 27-year-old drug user.
Sadly, the dangers of death caused by fentanyl exposure are not simply limited to users. Oklahoma prosecutors filed murder charges against a couple for causing the death of their son – who was only six years old at the time. A police search of the parent’s home following their son’s death resulted in the seizure of a bottle containing fake oxycodone pills that were actually fentanyl.
Fentanyl also poses a risk for first responders, as police, fire, and emergency medical personnel may be exposed to fentanyl while carrying out their regular duties. It's rare, but there is the possibility first responders may inadvertently come into contact with the drug and breathe it in or contaminate their hands, thus introducing it into their bodies by touching their eyes, mouths, or nose.
Thankfully, the danger to first responders encountering fentanyl while treating an overdose victim, if only engaging in skin-to-skin contact, is extremely low. Concerns about absorbing it through the skin have been dispelled. According to the latest research, incidental contact with the drug does not pose a risk to first responders or anyone rendering aid to an overdose victim.
Treatment for overdose
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl overdose deaths have risen sharply. The 71,238 fentanyl deaths in 2021 were 13,404 more than reported the prior year.
The hope is that, along with more prosecution to halt the drug’s prevalence, there will also be treatment and preventative options for at-risk individuals. Naloxone is an effective emergency treatment that can save the life of an overdose victim. Common signs that a person is experiencing a fentanyl overdose include:
· Choking and difficulty swallowing
· Loss of consciousness
· Cold, clammy skin
· Breathing difficulties
· Constricted pupils
Naloxone has proven effective in reversing the symptoms of an opioid overdose and restoring normal breathing within a few minutes. It’s administered as a nasal spray or as an injection into the skin or muscle, available for free and without a prescription in Oklahoma.
Development of a vaccine to battle addiction
Furthermore, researchers have developed a vaccine that may slow or halt the illicit use of fentanyl and other forms of opioids. The vaccine prevents fentanyl and other opioids from entering the brain to keep the user from experiencing the effects of the drug. Preliminary laboratory testing did not disclose any adverse side effects, so the next stage of the development process will involve clinical trials with the vaccine administered to humans.
An estimated three million people in the U.S. struggle with opioid abuse. Naloxone offers only a reversal of overdose symptoms without addressing the underlying dependency that led the victim to that point in the first place. The development of a vaccine may hold hope as an aid for people attempting to free themselves from their drug dependency.