COLORADO SPRINGS — The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the first ever Fentanyl Awareness Day as May 10.

Fentanyl Awareness Day aims to spread the awareness of the dangers of fentanyl and how to get help for yourself or a loved one.

The CDC is working with a number of groups, foundations and corporations, as well as parents who have lost loved ones to the overdose epidemic.

Collaborating groups purposely set the date for May 10 during Mental Health Awareness Month, according to the CDC. The decision was prompted due to recent messaging regarding self-medication for mental health issues at a time when counterfeit pills with Fentanyl have flooded the illicit drug market.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) introduced the Senate resolution designating May 10 as National Fentanyl Awareness Day.

In an interview with Steve Carleton, Executive Clinical Director at Gallus Detox Centers and adjunct Professor at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work, Carleton cited that 105,000 Americans have died from overdose in 2021 and 69,000 of those deaths involved fentanyl. It is the leading cause of death for those between the ages of 18 and 45 in 2021, according to Carleton.

Carleton explained that the fentanyl crisis exponentially worsened when the manufacturing of OxyContin significantly decreased. Individuals turned to the streets for drugs such as heroin. This was a direct result of the Opiate Crisis that began in the early 2000s when the Slacker family and Purdue Pharma were exposed for understating the risks of OxyContin, Carleton stated. The two manufacturers were deemed responsible for making individuals dependent and later addicted. Carleton said Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and much easier to traffic and distribute.

“It would take a suitcase worth of heroin for an eyeglass case worth of fentanyl,” stated Carleton.

Fentanyl is a regulated pharmaceutical but the drug distributed on the street is mostly analogs of the substance more crudely manufactured in China, said Carleton. He also said Mexican Cartels are now likely manufacturing their own as well. A commonly known derivative of fentanyl is carfentanil, which is known to be at least 1,000 times stronger than heroin.

In recent years, fentanyl has been pressed into fraudulent m30 pills, or “Blues,” meant to look like OxyContin. Carleton says the only way to test for the presence of fentanyl is with testing strips specifically made to test for fentanyl. He explained that standard drug screens for opiates fail to test for fentanyl. Testing strips can be requested through local health departments or procured from the Harm Reduction Center.

“This is why so many people overdose, because they don’t have access to these tests,” said Carleton. “That’s only the way to test for fentanyl.”

Fentanyl is also beginning to make its way into drugs such as xanax pills and cocaine. The risk of overdose becomes much higher for those unaware of the presence of fentanyl whose bodies have no tolerance against the drug.

According to Carleton, 60% to 70% with substance use disorders have an underlying mental health disorder such as depression or a mood disorder and 80% have traumatic history. These health conditions make it difficult to manage stress, mood and difficult memories. Carleton said that as individuals become addicted, reliance on drugs replaces all other healthy coping strategies.

“With the pandemic, people were much more isolated with not as many healthy alternative to manage stress and life,” stated Carleton. “With addiction, the fear of withdrawal is what drives continued use of drugs.”

The Gallus Medical Detox Center has developed an Accelerated Micro Induction Protocol that uses suboxone to wean individuals off drugs.

“Traditional detox is not as good but at Gallus, we provide medical intervention and medicate them immediately so they are comfortable through the process.”

Carleton emphasized the importance of aftercare as the only predictor of success in the days after recovery. He believes that the pathway to recovery is long term treatment and detox.

If you or a loved one struggles with opioid addiction, call the Substance Abuse and Addiction Hotline at 1-844-289-0879.