The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) announced that the 10th annual National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week® (NDAFW) is to be held March 30 through April 5, 2020. According to the NIDA, this will be a week of educational events that brings together teens and scientific experts about substance use and addiction. NIDA and NIAAA are both part of the National Institutes of Health.
The purpose of NDAFW is to “link students with scientists and other experts to counteract the myths about drugs and alcohol that teens get from the internet, social media, TV, movies, music, or from friends. It was launched in 2010 by scientists at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to stimulate educational events in communities so teens can learn what science has taught us about drug use and addiction.”
Two of the questions posed in last year’s National Drug & Alcohol IQ Challenge addressed topics that we have written about in the past.
- Question: Drugs called “Spice” or “K2” are sometimes called “fake weed,” but in reality, they are different from marijuana. Scientists call these drugs “synthetic cannabinoids.” They can be dangerous, because you never know what they contain. How many different types of synthetic cannabinoids were reported by law enforcement in 2014?
- The answer: 177.
In our article, A Spice You Won’t Want in Your Kitchen: Synthetic Cannabinoids, we explained how the chemically engineered compounds used to make synthetic cannabinoids are often shipped as bulk powder across borders and then sprayed on plant-based material. These compounds can induce powerful—and unpredictable—results including extreme anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations, and even heart attack. Because there are so many chemical variants, no one really knows what they are getting, or how much they are getting of the substances, when they purchase these products.
- Question: Fentanyl is an especially dangerous drug because [why?].
- The answer: Only a tiny bit can cause an overdose. The challenge answer explains that Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid pain reliever that is similar to the opioid morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. This means it is cheap for drug dealers to add it to other drugs and sell on the street. Many people who use street drugs do not realize that fentanyl has been added to their drugs, and they take too much, leading to overdoses.
In Technology That Helps in Fighting Fentanyl, the Deadliest Drug in America, we noted that according to a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics report, which analyzed death certificates for drug overdose deaths between 2011 and 2016, fentanyl was involved in nearly 29% of all overdose deaths in 2016.” Heroin came in a close second at 25%. In numbers, that means that in 2016, over 18,000 overdose deaths involved fentanyl, and 16,000 fatalities were due to heroin.
There are tools that police and first responders can use in the field to identify the unknown substances when they search a vehicle or are involved in a drug bust. We’ve previously written about police departments that are currently using narcotics analyzers to help fight the drug crisis. These tools — which utilize the well-established analytical technique called Raman spectroscopy — are used to identify key drugs of abuse as well as common cutting agents, precursors and emerging threats such as fentanyl, numerous fentanyl compounds including carfentanil, common street fentanyl analogs, pharmaceutical variants as well as the fentanyl precursors, NPP and ANPP.
Using this technology, one can scan directly through plastic or glass for most samples to minimize contamination, reduce exposure and preserve evidence. An officer can scan a sample and receive the result within seconds. (You can read about these and other reasons how handheld Raman analyzer strengthens law enforcement for narcotics identification here.)
These handheld narcotics analyzers offer a presumptive test that is more accurate and reliable than colorimetric drug tests, providing law enforcement officials a quicker and safer method to identify suspected narcotics in the field. That’s a fact.