By ROBERT FUSELIER
Since my son’s death a month ago, I’ve struggled with how public I should be about the cause of his death. However, the recent news of the deaths of other young people and a DEA alert published since my son’s death has made it impossible for me not to bring it into the public domain.
The DEA alert was to inform us, the U.S. public, of counterfeit prescriptions flooding the U.S. from Mexican drug cartels (link). The counterfeit prescriptions mimic legally produced painkillers but contain fentanyl, an extremely potent opioid. Over 25 percent of the pills tested had a lethal amount of fentanyl in one tablet. The problem with all opioids is that they can cause apnea, the cessation of breathing. Because of its potency, just a small amount of fentanyl can cause someone to stop breathing.
We learned from the medical examiner’s report that the cause of Mike’s death was an overdose of fentanyl. We know he struggled with insomnia for years and had tried various therapies recommended by health care professionals. We didn’t know that his struggle had led him to the point of trying counterfeit pain killers (opioids). What we do know is that he didn’t know he was taking a lethal dose of fentanyl. What he didn’t know is what was contained in the DEA alert that was published in the Los Alamos Daily Post shortly after his death.
What is so difficult for my family is that we all are, because of our professions, well aware of fentanyl’s life-threatening side effect. However, none of us knew that Mike had started using opioids as a means to self-medicate. Why, we ask, didn’t he just say something? Why, his paramedic/fireman brother and roommate asks, did Mike not ask me to sit with him for a few minutes to ensure he would be OK that night? How could Mike, who was known by his peers for being so responsible and accountable for his actions, take this chance?
We’ll never know the answers to our questions. All I can do here is bring this devastating problem more to light. The thought of saving another set of parents from joining this terrible club to which Susie and I now belong or to save another sister or brother from losing a sibling – to save one life – is my motivation to share our tragedy with you.
I realize that exposing the risks of these counterfeit painkillers will never be enough to keep many from using them for whatever reason they choose to use them. However, I will offer the following suggestions. If you know someone who may be using or plans to use any type of opioid, please share this with them with an understanding and compassionate voice:
- If you’re thinking of trying a non-prescribed opioid (or a prescribed opioid in a non-prescribed manner) think again, but think out loud. Think out loud to someone you trust and who knows you well. Perhaps the two of you will think of another way to address your pain or problem, some way that isn’t a dance with death.
- If for some reason you’ve convinced yourself you must use a recreational drug, know what you’re using and don’t use any form of any type of opioid. You can never be certain what type of opioid(s) and how much of each opioid is actually in the dose you think is safe.
- If you believe, for whatever reason, you must use an opioid, don’t do it alone. Do it with someone who has at least one working phone, who will remain sober, and who knows how to treat someone who has stopped breathing. They can then support you while everyone hopes the 911 call will be answered in time. If you can find access to a naloxone inhaler, give it to the person who is with you because you will be incapable of using it by yourself when you need it. But understand that even naloxone may not be enough to save you life.
- If you are ready to seek help for an opioid addiction, one website with numerous opioid assistance hotlines in New Mexico is: (http://www.hopeinitiativenm.org/).
If you happen to be a public official, please work with your colleagues to change the way we in New Mexico and the U.S. deal with non-prescription pain medicine use. We all need to be more open and less judgmental when it comes to non-prescription drug use. Other countries are dealing with this problem exponentially better than we are as a nation.
Here are my suggestions for you as a public official:
- Do what is necessary to increase our State’s efforts to educate middle school students, high school students, parents, and the general public about our Good Samaritan Law. The law offers civil and criminal protection to those assisting anyone who has overdosed, including those who call 911.
- Have our State extend that Good Samaritan Law’s protection to everyone helping someone who has overdosed, including people on probation and parole, if this has not already been done.
- Work to have naloxone inhalers more available to the friends and family of those who may use opioids.
- Develop and implement a policy to educate the public about how to properly give emergency care to people who are in respiratory arrest from an over dosage.
I know these suggestions won’t cure our opioid epidemic. My hope, and that of my wife and family, is that it will save just one person’s life.