Faculty members with the West Virginia University School of Pharmacy are issuing warnings about the rise of fentanyl in Mountain State communities and elsewhere following the recent seizure of a large amount of “rainbow fentanyl,” potent illegal pills resembling candy, by law enforcement officers in Monongalia County.
Three experts are available to discuss how fentanyl — already a leading contributing factor in overdose deaths — is making certain drugs more dangerous.
Dr. Elizabeth Scharman is the clinical and executive director of the West Virginia Poison Center and a professor of clinical pharmacy. She teaches clinical toxicology, disaster planning and substance abuse-related classes for the School of Pharmacy and also provides continuing education presentations for physicians, nurses and pharmacists throughout West Virginia.
Dr. Marie Abate is a professor of clinical pharmacy nationally known in the areas of drug information and assessment. She directed the statewide West Virginia Center for Drug and Health Information for nearly three decades.
Dr. Mark Garofoli is a clinical assistant professor who developed and coordinated the WVU Opioid-Centered Medication Therapy Management program and the Safe & Effective Management of Pain Program guidelines.
“Anyone can buy these pills, and hundreds of other substances of abuse on social media — literally from their phones — and have them delivered to their home. Don’t wait to have a tragic story, be the person who prevents one. Talk with everyone about the dangers of drug misuse. It is especially important to talk to our youth about how it only takes one time — just one pill can kill.” – Dr. Mark Garofoli, Clinical Assistant Professor, WVU School of Pharmacy
“The West Virginia Poison Center had 212 reports of fentanyl exposure in 2021. However, many people buy heroin, not realizing what they are actually purchasing is heroin mixed with fentanyl or fentanyl by itself. Therefore, this number is likely to underestimate the exposures reported to the Center. The most common counterfeit prescription drug reported to the West Virginia Poison Center is Xanax, a benzodiazepine sedative, which is pressed into tablets containing fentanyl made to look like Xanax bars.
“It’s important to stress that tablets purchased on the street can be just as dangerous as the drugs people snort or inject, the administration routes most people associate with illegal drugs of abuse.” – Dr. Elizabeth Scharman, Professor of Clinical Pharmacy, WVU School of Pharmacy
“Fentanyl continues to play a major role in West Virginia drug-related deaths. Initial data from 2022 shows fentanyl was involved in almost three-quarters of these deaths. Even scarier is that other, newer drugs are showing up in street drugs with fentanyl, making them even more dangerous. One such drug is xylazine, an animal tranquilizer now getting national attention. Xylazine first appeared in West Virginia in 2019, in 1% of the drug deaths. In 2021, it was found in about 5% of the West Virginia drug deaths. Based on early 2022 data, xylazine was in nearly 9% of the state’s drug deaths, with fentanyl almost always present. This combination can really knock people out.” – Dr. Marie Abate, Professor of Clinical Pharmacy, WVU School of Pharmacy
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