This spring break, fentanyl could be the not-so-silent killer

With these crowds of young people comes the inevitable use of party drugs, not just marijuana and alcohol, but also pills. Last year brought overdose deaths including several West Point cadets who experienced fentanyl-laced cocaine overdose deaths in Broward County, a regional epicenter for fentanyl.

Why is this happening?

For one thing, the U.S. State Department and the state of Texas are right to issue travel advisories to certain areas of Mexico, including where Cancun and Los Cabos are located. There is local concern about the drug cartels there, but the travel extends across the border, as fentanyl and fentanyl-laced products flow unfettered into the U.S. In fact, drug cartels are recruiting teens via handouts and social media to come to the border to transport drugs.

The fentanyl is ending up in many different kinds of pills including speed, oxycodone, ecstasy, Xanax and Adderall. The majority of fentanyl is mass-produced in Mexico using chemicals from China.

The Drug Enforcement Agency has reported seizing over 379 million doses of deadly fentanyl in 2022, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has spawned a mental health crisis among our country’s teens, and the pressure for freedom has only increased. This expression is often reckless and drugs are frequently involved. According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey of 17,000 high school students, almost 60 percent of teen girls reported feelings of persistent sadness last year. All too often, this sadness can too easily turn into reckless behavior which can frequently involve drugs.

Most of this behavior goes untreated though there have been efforts on the part of the Department of Health and Human Services and state and local health departments to ramp up mental health services, it clearly isn’t enough.

So, what can be done?

One approach is to counter the fentanyl scourge by blanketing the areas most affected with the antidote — Narcan. Narcan is a form of the drug naloxone which is administered as a nasal spray and can reverse an opioid overdose.

Florida Harm Reduction Collective is a nonprofit organization that offers free Narcan and reporting services statewide. They distributed almost 3,000 kits in 2022 and are hard at work now in anticipation of spring break. Anyone over the age of 18 can pick up a kit in Florida’s Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco Counties.

Unfortunately, fentanyl, which was first approved by the FDA in 1968, is a long-acting opioid best suited for treating cancer pain. Its use as an illicit drug is especially problematic because it can last for days in the system whereas Narcan wears off in 30 to 90 minutes. Emergency services then become crucial in order to get the overdose victim to the hospital before that time.

This makes surveillance even more important. In Panama City, police are setting up crime cameras and canines on the beach, in anticipation of overdoses as well as associated crimes.

Ramping up mental health services throughout the regions most affected and treatment for drug use is crucial as is public education in schools and more parental involvement at home. It is difficult to advise parents not to allow their college-age children to go on spring break trips at all, though, of course, a serious discussion of the risks should take place.

We live in a time where the pent-up fury of youth too restricted for the sake of controlling a virus that could not be controlled is now colliding with the opportunism of burgeoning criminality without conscience. One obvious, long-awaited and needed solution is to deal with the problem at the border. Why should we allow the cartels direct access to our precious young via any route we can and should control?