An arrest of two Massachusetts men for a kidnapping resulted in the seizure of about 8 grams of suspected fentanyl, 20 blue pills suspected to be fentanyl and 31 grams of suspected cocaine, in Bennington this past September. 

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BENNINGTON — No community is safe from the poison of fentanyl. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, fentanyl is the single deadliest drug threat our nation has ever encountered. Fentanyl is everywhere, from large metropolitan areas to rural American villages and towns like Bennington.

On Tuesday, May 9, the DEA and several other organizations dedicated to the fight against fentanyl set aside a day of remembrance and awareness known as Fentanyl Awareness Day. It is a day established in memory of loved ones who died from fentanyl’s deadly effects and a chance to acknowledge the devastation the drug has brought to thousands of affected family members and friends.

Fentanyl is involved in more deaths of Americans under 50 than any cause of death, including heart disease, cancer, homicide, suicide and other accidents. Fentanyl is among the most powerful opioids in the world, 50 times more potent than heroin and up to 100 times stronger than morphine.

Nationally, 107,375 people in the United States died of drug overdoses in the 12 months ending in January 2022. A staggering 67 percent of those overdose deaths involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl. According to a recent Vermont Health Department report, fentanyl was involved in 93 percent of fatal overdoses in Vermont.

These are among the many dangers of fentanyl use in 2023:

• Illicit fentanyl is being used to make fake prescription pills and is also found in common street drugs like cocaine, MDMA and heroin.

• Often consumed unknowingly by users, illicit fentanyl is driving the recent increase in U.S. overdose deaths.

• Fake pills have been found in all 50 states, with many of the prescription pills available online, including Oxy, Percocet, Adderall and Xanax, tainted with fentanyl.

• Fake pills are the main reason fentanyl-involved deaths are the fastest growing among youth.

• Fentanyl is involved in more American youth deaths than heroin, meth, cocaine, benzos and Rx drugs combined.

The Department of Homeland Security noted recently that seizures of illegal fentanyl by U.S. Customs and Border Protection are up 400 percent since September 2019 and continue to increase. DHS has seized more fentanyl and arrested more traffickers in the past two years than it did in the previous five.

Bennington has seen a dramatic rise as well. The Banner recently reported on 11 overdoses — one fatal, most related to some form of fentanyl — over four days just two weeks ago.

{span style=”font-size: 12px;”}{span style=”font-size: 12px;”}“This was our fear of the fentanyl epidemic,” Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette said last week. {/span}{/span}

Besides worrying about the quantity and potency of any fentanyl coming into Bennington, authorities are also dealing with the possibility that some of the supply might be tainted with other substances that can enhance the effects with deadly results.

“Our ongoing fear here is not just the continuous amount of fentanyl and other drugs that are coming into our community,” Lt. Camillo Grande of the Bennington Police Department said recently, “but the possibility of other substances. We are becoming aware and are preparing for the possibility of things like xylazine. We are keeping our eyes open for it. We are also concerned with how this stretches police and investigative resources. We will continue to keep this in our eyesight to keep Bennington safe. We want to get the word out.”

Xylazine, or “Tranq” as it’s known on the street, is a powerful sedative used by veterinarians. Tranq is often combined with opioids like fentanyl, but it is not an opioid, so it cannot be reversed with Narcan and may reduce its efficacy.

Xylazine use has spread rapidly throughout the country. The Drug Enforcement Administration reports skyrocketing detections of xylazine, with growth between 2020 and 2021 of 61 percent in the Northeast, 198 percent in the South, 112 percent in the West and 7 percent in the Midwest.

In Vermont, xylazine was reported to be present in almost 30 percent of opioids-related accidental and undetermined deaths. Gabapentin is another substance found in some of the Fentanyl supply. It is involved in 13 percent of fatal opioid overdoses in 2022 (up from 2 percent in 2021.) Xylazine was involved in 28 percent of fatal opioid overdoses (up from 13 percent in 2021.)

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More than 240 Vermonters died of an opioid overdose in 2022. Most opioid-related deaths involve multiple substances. In 2022, 87 percent of opioid-related fatal overdoses involved two or more substances, with 25 percent involving four or more substances.

“The contamination of the drug supply is one of our biggest challenges right now,” Margae Diamond, executive director of Turning Point Recovery Center of Bennington, told the Banner recently. “As if the substance use disorder epidemic wasn’t bad enough, we’re now getting all these contaminants, increasing the urgency around this issue.”

Diamond says about 30 to 40 percent of what’s being tested nationwide shows xylazine on top of fentanyl.

“That could also be on top of whatever the drug was they thought they were buying,” Diamond says. “We just don’t know. If that stuff is in there, that just makes everything exponentially worse. Fentanyl is everywhere.”

There are several ways individuals and organizations can increase awareness and help save lives:

• Talk to your loved ones. Ask questions about their awareness of fentanyl in fake pills and street drugs and outline steps to protect themselves.

• Know the signs of an overdose and be prepared to call 911.

• Locate Naloxone (Narcan) and learn how to use it.

• If using, don’t use alone.

“The unfortunate part is that, for our clients now, most people know that the drug supply is contaminated with fentanyl and possibly other agents,” Diamond says. “They’re aware. There’s been enough publicity and attention on this. They say, ‘Yeah, yeah, we know.’ A small percentage of people would even seek that out.”

Asked why someone would seek out fentanyl with a more potent, more lethal substance added, Diamond responded, “Because when you take a substance over a long period of time, your body tolerates it, so you have to step up to the next higher dose. So, it’s like, are you going to gamble? Yes, you’re going to gamble, and you’re going to gamble every time because the fear of something being too potent or substances added is not going to be a deterrent against their physical and mental addiction.”

She feels at this point that the best we can do is communicate the risk and what can be done to reduce it.

“We can talk to people about harm reduction,” Diamond says. “Please don’t use alone. Please have one person go first while the other waits a few minutes. Wait five to 10 minutes and make sure your buddies are OK before you do this. Maybe use less than you usually use and check it out before. Do you have clean supplies? That harm reduction conversation is crucial.”

If you or a loved one needs help with substance abuse or have questions relating to fentanyl, contact any of the following:

Turning Point Recovery Center in Bennington at 802-442-9700. or call 802-565-LINK (or toll-free 833-565-LINK)

Learn more about opioid-use disorder, prevention, treatment and how to prevent an overdose at online.

Also, follow the social media tags: #NationalFentanylAwarenessDay #JustSayKNOW


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