There have been many stories about the dangers of fentanyl, but the latest twist earlier this month is sobering. In the past few years, states with the death penalty have had trouble with suppliers of drugs. Pharmaceutical companies have refused to sell them the traditional execution drugs, ancuronium bromide (Pavulon) and Potassium chloride put into the vein separately. Some prisoners have complained of pain through this process, and activists have campaigned against the use of these drugs, which has been mostly effective. Desperate to carry out promised executions, states have turned to new and unapproved methods of lethal injection. This led to the injection of fentanyl in Arkansas in mid-August, alongside a benzodiazepine (diazepam aka Valium) cisatracurium besylate, a muscle relaxant; and potassium chloride, which stops the heart. There were no complications with the inmate’s death, and he passed within just five minutes or so.
Fentanyl is a deadly drug meant to treat pain from cancer, surgery, and other long-term conditions. As a medication, it is a drug that was never intended to kill, yet states, where the opioid epidemic have seen the numbers of death climbing statistically, are losing more people to fentanyl than Oxycontin.
Ironically, the combination of benzodiazapines is also a common factor when it comes to overdose deaths. Many people who are addicted to opioids either have an anxiety disorder or use anti-anxiety drugs recreationally, creating a lethal combination. Benzos, such as Ativan, Klonopin, and Valium all have a calming effect that can cause the lungs to breathe more slowly. When combined with an opioid, people struggle to breathe on their own.
Accoding to the National Instute of Drug Abuse, a study in North Carolina found that the overdose death rate among patients prescribed both opioids and benzos was 10 times higher than among those only receiving opioids. Narcan often has to work harder to revive overdose victims who have taken multiple drugs, and the overdoses are often fatal.
Overdoses on fentanyl are usually by accident, and often the user doesn’t even know they have injested the drug. People who buy pills on the street often end up with a drug that’s laced with fentanyl. Because it’s over 100 times stronger than morphine, people with lower tolerences often experience overdoses.