On June 18, a news report was released by Huntsville, Alabama’s WHNT 19 News claiming a deputy had overdosed on fentanyl while searching a suspect. After searching a suspect’s pockets, the deputy allegedly caused a powder containing fentanyl to fly up into his face, where he inadvertently inhaled it, causing an overdose.
In the online report, Lincoln County officials released the alleged body cam footage from the incident via WHNT. Only one angle was released of the alleged overdose from the perspective of the officer. It’s dark, nondescript, and short.
Most alarmingly, no suspects were charged with drug possession, assaulting a law enforcement officer, or anything else.
No medical or toxicology reports or updates have been shared. Outside of the aforementioned article and video on WHNT’s website and, no other mentions of Deputy Trent Layman’s inadvertent run-in with fentanyl have been released online. Tennessee Harm Reduction called Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department in the days following the WHNT release, though received no other information about the incident.
Our goal is not to deny Mr. Layman’s victimhood — it’s to obtain more evidence of this alleged incident happening. We have no toxicology reports, medical opinions, or updates from Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department. This currently-unsubstantiated claim has unarguably negatively influenced public opinion even further against drugs. Thus far, the small-town Tennessee sheriff’s department has gone unchallenged on this issue.
We want additional evidence from Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department to support the legitimacy of this May 30 event.
Hysteria Around Fatal Fentanyl Contamination via Transdermal and Respiratory Exposure Has Galvanized America Against Evidence-Based Solutions for the Opioid Crisis
An American College of Medical Toxicology and the American Academy of Clinical Toxicology paper posits that opioid overdose from inadvertent exposure to airborne fentanyl isn’t scientifically feasible as part of a 2017 safety guide for first responders.
Spreading such reports attracts public support for the War on Drugs, often in the form of further criminalizing people found in possession of fentanyl.
Two Republican U.S. Representatives from Ohio, Steve Chabot and Bob Latta, introduced FIGHT Fentanyl Act (H.R. 5771) in hopes of permanently banning fentanyl analogues on a federal level in Feb. 2020. “Fentanyl-like substances” were temporarily banned by the DEA in 2018, which is set to expire in 2021. This would make punishing fentanyl analogs much easier, more harshly criminalizing even those simply in “possession of fentanyl-like drugs.”
“We need to focus on evidence-based harm reduction policies and programs like syringe exchanges and supervised consumption sites,” says Sara Alese, Tennessee Recovery Alliance’s executive director.
39 people in total were arrested. Pulliam, Gary, and Esquivel were each given 12 charges in total; each three share the same list of 12 charges.
The life-saving drug has been legal in the Palmetto State since at least 2016, when the South Carolina Joint Naloxone Protocol was written into law.
These charges are alarming, as the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Department seemingly doesn’t want to encourage people at high risk of opioid overdose to carry it. Further, a legal precedent to wrongly charge individuals found in possession of naloxone could be established if these charges stick.
We must urge Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Department and South Carolina legislators to reverse these charges.
Criminal Charges for Naloxone — a Bad Look
Naloxone (Narcan) is a life-saving drug that reverses opioid overdose. It’s been distributed across the United States — and the world — in response to opioid overdose deaths. South Carolina, like every state, has legalized naloxone. Why are people being charged for possessing this life-saving drug, one that has no known contraindications outside of naloxone allergy?
The South Carolina Joint Naloxone Protocol, pursuant to § 44-130-40 of the South Carolina Code of Laws, allows pharmacists to dispense naloxone without a prescription or patient-specific instrutions, making naloxone legal in South Carolina. The most recent iteration of this law was written in 2016.
Marc Burrows, operator of South Carolina’s only syringe exchange, Challenges Inc., says, “This is unfortunate. Naloxone saves lives, and it’s already legal here. Why were these three charged for naloxone possession, of all things?”
Naloxone possession is legally protected by law. You can’t get “high” from naloxone. Rather, it removes opioids from the brain’s opioid receptors, thus reversing overdose. It has no known major contraindications, meaning it doesn’t interact with other drugs. People can be allergic to naloxone, though it’s rarely serious.
“Operation Groundhog Day”
Many law enforcement agencies, especially in rural America, make annual or otherwise regular “drug roundups” where they indict drug-involved people, mainly sellers, on various drug-related charges.
This operation had been in the works for some time, says Fox Carolina, a local news outlet covering the Spartanburg, South Carolina area.
I live in Northwest Tennessee, also known as Region 6N by the state (at least as far as Regional Overdose Prevention Specialist jurisdiction is concerned), a nine-county region home to about 254,000 people. 2014 — that’s when I moved here. It’s also when I picked up opioids as my drug of choice. I’ve been using illicit opioids, both heroin and diverted prescription opioids, regularly since then.
Although now I’m “in recovery,” I’m still in touch with people who use opioids around here. I give out syringes, naloxone, fentanyl test strips, and the like. I educate people about safe drug use practices. I inform law enforcement and members of the public about relevant issues and the gospel of harm reduction.
I read countless articles and social media posts about how the novel coronavirus pandemic would disrupt the drug trade. Nothing, really, changed around here. Until now.
A week-and-a-half ago, I came across a report of some strong heroin. People I know claim this stout stuff acts like normal heroin, but another (often strong) wave kicks in anywhere from a few minutes to over an hour later — even if they inject it intravenously.
I came across this same stuff again just five days after my first encounter with it. People around me say they’ve had this stuff before, maybe even as far back as a few months or years ago. But it’s in supply now. If you’re buying opioids, whether it be heroin, diverted prescription opioids, or counterfeit opioid painkiller tablets, there’s a chance you come across this stuff.
I know it’s in Jackson, too, which isn’t technically in Northwest Tennessee — it’s central West Tennessee.
I was told by a regional medical/public health official there were nine fatal overdoses in Northwest TN in the past month. I was also told by a fellow opioid user that there were three fatal overdoses on Mother’s Day weekend alone. I don’t know if these three are included in the nine since the second report came from an unofficial, anecdotal source.
Unfortunately, I don’t know what’s in this heroin. It could also be in counterfeit pain pills around here, if not elsewhere, but I don’t know. I haven’t heard reports of this stuff in Knoxville, Nashville, or North Carolina from sources in these areas.
I think a novel psychoactive substance (NPS) is being cut into heroin because of supply chain issues thanks to the novel coronavirus pandemic. But we don’t know what that NPS is yet. It could be a fentanyl analogue. It could be something like U-47700. But I don’t know. It’s definitely an opioid, that’s for sure.
My purpose in writing this is to sound the alarm and tell people who use drugs, specifically opioids, to be careful. But how, exactly, can you be careful while using this drug — whatever the hell it is?
Advice for Using Opioids During This Time
These tips are gathered from real-world experience with harm reduction in mind. The following tips aren’t necessarily true for all opioids — again, they’re written with this batch of whatever-the-fuck-it-is in mind.
Take It Super Duper Slow
Like I said, this stuff takes anywhere from a few minutes to over an hour to fully kick in. You should always use test doses (called test shots if you’re injecting), but especially with what’s going around right now. Although it’s tempting to use a larger dose at first or even a few minutes after doing a test shot, refrain yourself from dosing again for at least an hour, if not longer.
I know this is difficult. Plus, it’s not practical to assume everyone will take this precaution. A test dose might not be enough to bring someone out of hellish opioid withdrawal. Also, being careful isn’t always synonymous with having fun — I understand the rush this stuff brings is nothing short of sensational.
Cook It First
You can’t do this unless you inject — well, you can, but most snorters don’t want to dissolve their drugs in water; plus, most people aren’t willing to boof, or rectally administer, opioids, even though it’s the next-best route of administration after injecting with roughly 60% bioavailability — but “cooking” your dope refers to heating it up wth a lighter just to the point of boiling (some prefer to heat it to a boil, some don’t) once you dissolve the drugs into water.
Rumor has it that cooking this stuff makes it potentially safer by helping the other active drug(s) kick in faster. If possible, even if you only snort or boof, cook your opioids before using them (I wouldn’t cook pills, but, then again, I wouldn’t recommend injecting or otherwise using pharmaceuticals other than directed, which is usually orally). Here’s how to do just that:
Dissolve some of your drugs (this is possible with other water-soluble drugs, not just opioids) in water. I recommend using less than one milliliter of water, as well as using metal “cookers” as shown below. A metal spoon will work just fine, too.
Mix the drugs until they dissolve. Sometimes, like with black tar heroin, they might not dissolve without heat. Here in Northwest Tennessee, though, powdered heroin that readily dissolves in water is the norm.
Hold a lighter under the cooker just until it boils. The boiling point is reached as soon as you begin seeing bubbles form. You should see black scum forming at the top of the solution. These are likely impurities, if not one or more of the novel psychoactive substances (or one or more of their byproducts), that you don’t want to be consuming anyway. Keep in mind you want to avoid boiling because opioids could be destroyed. Nobody wants that. At least not me.
Use cotton or a wheel filter (good luck finding those; they are available online, just kinda pricey) to draw the solution into a hypodermic syringe or an oral syringe — hell, a turkey baster, if you can’t get either of those. You can get oral syringes from pharmacies without prescriptions. Go ask any pharmacy (I’ve had success at Walmart) for an oral syringe, they’ll usually give one to you for free. You can buy hypodermic syringes online from medical/diabetes supply shops without syringes — I’d recommend pharmacies, but most here aren’t willing to sell needles without prescriptions.
Most people don’t store injection drug solutions for long, as they usually cook just enough for one dose. If you do decide to store an opioid solution, I recommend keeping it in a refrigerator.
Know How to Spot It
Check out these pictures an anonymous source took of this batch. These were taken just a few days ago, around Wednesday, June 10th.
Remember how I said the color of the uncooked solution is often darker? Here’s what that solution looks like before being heated. Note the color of the solution is darker than after it’s been heated.
Although the cooked solution is visible in the first picture above, here’s what the cooked, filtered solution looks like. There doesn’t seem to be much difference in the filtered and unfiltered solution after it’s cooked.
But what does the dope itself look like?
Here’s what the stuff looks like outside of plastic.
This stuff is said to taste just like any other batch of heroin and wasn’t sweet like fentanyl-cut batches sometimes are. Keep in mind that you can’t reasonably identify drugs just by their appearance, though it is important to know what this stuff could look like and how it might behave.
If you come across any opioids that share some or all of these chracteristics, contact me and/or other drug-involved persons, ranging from dealers, fellow users, family members, prevention coalitions, law enforcement agencies (reporting the presence of drug trends to law enforcement ain’t snitchin’), syringe services programs, medication-assisted treatment program administrators and physicians, addiction treatment providers. Don’t do anything that might incriminate you, but there are plenty of ways to go about sharing drug reports without getting yourself or others in trouble.
If you live in Northwest Tennessee and need naloxone (Narcan), contact Region 6N Regional Overdose Prevention Specialist (ROPS) Melesa Lassiter at (731) 819-7603 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also contact Martin Housing Authority if you’re around Martin at (731) 587-3186 or the Weakley County Prevention Coalition at (731) 514-7951 or email@example.com.
If you live elsewhere in Tennessee, use this to find your region’s ROPS, along with their phone numbers and emails.
War Is Absolutely No Fun — Morphine Sure Does Help a Lot, Though
Opioids, although not everybody likes them, provide a strong feeling of euphoria to users. Many people self-medicate with opioids like morphine to reduce anxiety, depression, and similar symptoms. Opioids are often commonly used as a way to dull pain during surgeries and other painful medical procedures.
War is tough. Although I’ve never been a soldier, thank goodness, I can imagine that marching on, and on, and on, and on to no end gets tiring, exhausting, and nothing short of old. Morphine also helped soldiers go for longer periods, believe it or not.
Although morphine isn’t a wonder drug, it was ideal to improve the performance of soldiers — put simply, it helped them go longer, stronger, and harder.
Physicians Weren’t Able to Access Treasure Troves of Treatments and Procedures
Back around the time of the American Civil War, which lasted from 1861 to 1865, physicians weren’t good at a lot of things. They were not able to administer anesthesia to people to operate on them without patients feeling such pain or being conscious, making surgery easier and more successful for both parties.
Antiseptics, at the time of the Civil War, had been used for at least 2,000 years, if not longer. However, the capabilities of the physicians on both sides of this battle were quite limited when it came to the use of antiseptics. Despite physicians doing the best they possibly could to repair wounded soldiers and keep them alive, major wounds often ended up getting infected, causing deaths not too long after such infections took hold.
Both sides wanted to win, obviously, and physicians had to do something to beef up their own sides’ chances of winning. They eventually decided on widely using morphine, which was produced in laboratories by this time instead of just being isolated from poppy plants’ organic material, in combination with hypodermic needles to get more utility out of morphine that was available.
If hypodermic needle supplies ran out or were otherwise unavailable, soldiers were given opium tablets that ultimately resulted in the same feeling as morphine.
What Happened After the War?
Though they knew addiction would result from pumping soldiers full of these drugs, physicians and other decision-makers would have rather kept their soldiers in a better physical and mental state through the administration of morphine and opium throughout the four-year war instead of making them tough it out. Physicians were willing to take on the end result of a much, much greater prevalence of morphine addiction and dependency.
Depending on where you reference this information, you may find that the Civil War ended up with a total of 400,000 or more soldiers walking away from the battlefield with an addiction to and dependency on opioids.
One interesting — and upsetting — thing is that, upon the release of soldiers from their respective sides of the conflict, they were given morphine, hypodermic needles, and opium tablets, and absolutely nothing else to compensate them for their service. At this time, unfortunately, there was no such thing as Veterans Affairs.
Soldiers were entitled to pensions once they retired from the governments they fought for. However, letting other members of society learn about one’s morphine addiction could have resulted in them being cut off from their upcoming pension plan payouts. As such, we can’t really say exactly how many soldiers left the American Civil War addicted to and dependent on opioids.
From the end of the American Civil War to about 1900, the vast majority of soldiers who fought in this war had already perished.
Just Because Soldiers Died Doesn’t Mean That Morphine Addiction Died Out
After the Civil War, the world of domestic medicine was not regulated well. As such, it proved easy for businesses to sell what are known as patent medicines, or those that are available over-the-counter rather than only via prescription, protected by trademarks or other intellectual property legal protections, and typically not labeled with complete lists of ingredients so as to make it difficult for competitors to copy what certain brands were selling.
Thanks to the widespread lack of regulation, it was easy for people to purchase them just like they’d buy anything else.
One reason why patent medications were in such high demand is that they were advertised for all sorts of health problems, ranging from coughing to serious, soon-to-be fatal diseases. Even people who weren’t so keen on developing addictions to morphine and other opioids bought these patent medicines to hopefully improve their health outcomes.
These people often ended up getting addicted.
People who simply weren’t aware of opioids and how bad they could be also got addicted en masse.
Lastly, individuals who were aware from the jump that they were just trying to get high ended up developing addictions themselves, too.
And Along Comes a Replacement to Morphine
You’re familiar with the idea of opioids being marketed as non-addictive and unable to be abused — which is what Purdue Pharma started doing in 1996 with the release of OxyContin — right?
No matter how you package an opioid, it’s still going to leave people at a chance of developing an addiction, a dependency, or both. Despite this simple concept, it seems as if the Food and Drug Administration, pharmacists, physicians, politicians, and countless others were lied to by Purdue and its cohorts in the pharmaceutical industry.
OxyContin wasn’t the first opioid marketed as being entirely new and in a class of its own — that title belongs to Heroin.
In the 1870s, a chemist named Charles Romley Alder Wright of England came up with a series of chemical reactions that resulted in the output of diacetylmorphine, a play on the basic morphine molecule that was both stronger and thought to be more enjoyable as a recreational drug than its older counterpart.
Bayer Pharmaceuticals, the same Bayer Pharmaceuticals that is still doing business today and best known for its famous brand of aspirin, came out with diacetylmorphine across the United States in 1898 sold under the brand name of Heroin.
Heroin was marketed to all shapes, sizes, ages, and conditions of people, ranging from taking care of children’s lagging coughs to being a solid way to relax in the evenings — and, of course, the relief of chronic pain symptoms as a form of pain management before the field even become a subspecialty researched by academicians and practiced by thousands of practitioners across the United States.
Guess What Happened?
If you can’t guess what ended up happening in the years following the release of Heroin by Bayer Pharmaceuticals… well, I guess you’re about to find out.
In 1909, some one decade later, people from around the world came together for the International Opium Commission in Shanghai, China. Two years later, in 1911, the second such get-together was held, where the first policy for making opioids illegal and regulating them was formulated.
Smear campaigns from the likes of Hamilton Wright, an outspoken racist who was appointed to the role of Opium Commissioner, spoke publicly to the American people and claimed that the United States did more drugs than any other country despite not knowing if that was true or not. Wright then said that cocaine caused rape carried out by Black people living in the Southeastern United States. Journalists followed suit in adopting the idea that drugs were inherently bad and should be outlawed, running such stories and studies to further spread these ideas.
In 1914, out of the 48 states that were officially part of the union, a total of 46 of them had agreed to outlaw heroin, morphine, opium, or other opioids.
Shortly after this point, the federal government signed the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, which read as a bill that taxed people for the purchase and sale of drugs, though what it actually did was prevent people from buying opioids or cocaine from any vendor other than a legitimate, certified pharmacy. However, physicians were able to prescribe these medications at this time.
Bridging the Gap Between This Point and the Start of What Would Become the Opioid Crisis
Due to the feelings that Americans held widely at this time, opioids — as well as cocaine, which is not an opioid — were not turned to very often in medical practice, only ending up being used for extreme cases of pain. Over the next few decades, opioids were still not often prescribed.
Eventually, as mentioned in “The Modern Opioid Epidemic in My Words,” another article of mine, the 1980s would roll around and people’s attitudes toward opioids for treating health issues began to shift.