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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

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Fentanyl Found in Nearly 100% of Drugs Tested at Prosecutor’s Office

Collin Hall
About 40 residents packed the basement of Tabernacle United Methodist Church to hear about the “state of drugs” in Cape May County from social workers and representatives from the county Prosecutor’s Office.

By Collin Hall

ERMA – Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is found in nearly every drug tested at the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office.

That’s according to Ken Hand, a chemist at the Prosecutor’s Office, speaking on a panel for which he and four other law enforcement personnel and social workers gathered at Tabernacle United Methodist Church in Erma Feb. 24 to discuss the “state of drugs” in Cape May County.

Hand stressed that the panel’s intention was not to cause alarm but rather to highlight the reality that street drugs — and party drugs — are killing people more quickly, and with lower dosages, than before.

A key takeaway was that Narcan, a narcotic that can help opioid overdose victims recover while help arrives, is available for free across New Jersey. Having one ready to go can mean the difference between life and death. The panelists encouraged everyone, even those who think they do not need Narcan, to keep at least two doses at their house, on their person or in their car.

Narcan is available for free at pharmacies across New Jersey, and Cape Assist has Narcan kits available for free upon request.

Joe Faldetta, a director at Cape Assist, a local substance misuse prevention and treatment agency, said that there is “no longer such a thing as a recreational drug — not really.”

“A party drug like cocaine is more than likely cut with fentanyl and can kill you the very first time you try it,” Faldetta told the tightly packed group of locals who turned out to hear about the drug crisis, and what they can do to help.

Every illicit cache of drugs seized by local law enforcement is tested at a laboratory at the county headquarters in Middle Township. Of the drugs tested, Hand said that “99%, darn close to 100%, of those have fentanyl in them.”

There was once a perceived safety around drugs like molly, cocaine, ecstasy and other recreational drugs that come in pill or powder form. But fentanyl, which Hand said is “super-cheap to make from a production standpoint,” is found lurking in each of them with great frequency. “It’s Russian roulette out there now,” he said.

He also outlined another growing trend, the mixture of xylazine with fentanyl. Xylazine, a potent non-opioid-based sedative, exaggerates the fentanyl high.

Kelly Beningo, a public health nurse with the county, said that fentanyl attacks the part of the human brain that tells the body to breathe. When mixed with xylazine, which brings hours-long drowsiness, the effects are deadly, and users open themselves to robbery and assault in their unconscious state.

Fentanyl is cheaper to produce, easier to smuggle in deadly amounts because lower quantities bring a more powerful high, and found in nearly every street drug imaginable. The speakers stressed that education on the effects of fentanyl, better mental health resources and a lifelong attitude of acceptance of those struggling with depression and mental illness are important safeguards against addiction.

Faldetta said that conversations about mental health need to start when kids are very young; it isn’t something to broach all of a sudden when they deal with the drama of high school, when substances are easier to obtain and when peers might be dabbling in them.

“We have to normalize conversations around mental health so your kids feel safe coming to you, the parent, instead of turning to substances,” he said. “Normalize talking about feelings when kids are young. When kids go through transitional periods they are at a higher risk of substance abuse, and they should feel that they can talk to a trusted person about their feelings.”

Panelists also stressed that those who suffer from drug addiction should not be demonized or looked down upon. Jennifer Thierjung, a recovery specialist at Cape Regional Medical Center, said that she suffered from drug addiction and stressed that it can “happen to anyone.”

Thierjung works with the hospital’s CARES (Cape Addiction Recovery Services) program, which provides resources 24/7 and help for those struggling with opioid addiction. Anyone struggling with opioid addiction or knowing of someone struggling can call 609-435-6272.

“It’s out there — this is real,” Hand told the crowd as the presentation wrapped up. “It’s amazing that so many people came here early on a Saturday morning. Our community really cares about this problem.”

Contact the author, Collin Hall, at chall@cmcherald.com or 609-886-8600, ext. 156.

Content Marketing Coordinator / Reporter

Collin Hall grew up in Cape May County and works as a content manager for Do The Shore, as well as a reporter. He currently lives in Villas.

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