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Fentanyl deaths could increase in Suffolk County: Shelter Island School Board seeks to combat crisis

Users of illegal drugs are currently being poisoned with fentanyl added to the substances they’re using. More will die.

That word came from two Suffolk County assistant district attorneys who delivered the facts to the Shelter Island Board of Education at its Feb. 28 meeting.

Shelter Island and North Fork communities have already witnessed deaths of multiple individuals resulting from illegal substances laced with fentanyl. They have been mourned by families and friends, and yet more users of illegal substances continue to ignore the warnings.

Fentanyl is often mixed into bags of heroin, creating a lethal combination that, according to officials, users are not always aware of. (Credit: Cliff Owen/Associated Press)

That’s what brought Assistant District Attorneys (ADAs) Rob Archer and Saam Jalayer to the Island’s Board of Education, which requested a return visit to deliver the message directly to students.

In many cases, dealers are selling fake “drugs” to users because the pills and other substances that they add fentanyl to are inexpensive to manufacture, but fetch large profits for the sellers.

The fakes claim to be such drugs as Oxycodone and Adderall, but the user doesn’t know they aren’t real. What’s more, many are sharing their supplies with friends, not knowing they are risking their own lives as well as the lives they’re sharing the substances with.

Mr. Jalayer noted that users often are looking for a “better high” and the high they get from fentanyl is fast, but if they get away with using it without overdosing, they use more to get the same or a higher feeling, and that’s likely to result in an overdose leading to serious injury or death.

Some frequent drug users may take a substance at a level they can tolerate, but would likely result in death for a first time user, Mr. Archer said.

A film they showed demonstrated the tiny amount of fentanyl it takes to lace a substance that can result in the user’s death.

Fentanyl is odorless and tasteless so users have no idea they are taking it in many cases, Mr. Archer said. Few know fentanyl is airborne, so it doesn’t have to be ingested to dangerously affect a user. The ADAs pointed out there have been cases of illness and even death among dealers preparing the synthetic opioid. Even police officers responding to fentanyl overdoses have been sickened by inhaling the substance.

What’s the legitimate use of fentanyl?

It’s a potent pain reliever, 100 times stronger than morphine and manufactured for use by patients who don’t respond to other pain killers. It’s primarily used to control pain among terminal patients in extreme pain to give them some relief and is prescribed under strictly controlled situations.

Use of fentanyl can induce hypoxia that can result in a coma, permanent brain damage and/or death.

Another thing the ADAs want people to know is there is a “Good Samaritan law” that will protect a person from prosecution who calls for help for themselves or another person who needs help in an overdose situation.

School Board members expressed surprise at some of what they heard, and were quick to embrace the ideas the two ADAs suggested in saying the solution has to be found in a number of areas, with participation from parents, school officials and the community.

There are programs the County D.A.’s office embraces that extend beyond the judicial system to provide rehabilitation services. Mr. Jalayer said. Fentanyl deaths could increase.