Fentanyl: The Crisis Sweeping the Nation

A Dual Perspective from the Frontlines and the Courtrooms


Bhoomi Kumari, Editor-in-Training

As the drug crisis continues to ravage communities across the nation, fentanyl has become the deadliest player on the field. Placer County’s Attorney’s Community Outreach Unit Supervisor, Attorney Lisa Botwinik described the recent impact of fentanyl overdoses on communities and urged public education on substance abuse and addiction, due to the toll fentanyl is taking on society.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioids are a type of drug that includes heroin, synthetic opioids like fentanyl, and prescription pain relievers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone. These drugs attach to opioid receptors in the body and can reduce pain, produce feelings of euphoria, and cause dangerous side effects like drowsiness and confusion. Misuse or large quantities can be deadly. It is often used in hospitals as a painkiller and anesthetic, but it is also used illegally to manufacture counterfeit pills that are sold on the black market.

Botwinik shared a personal story of a young man who survived a fentanyl overdose but died several months after buying a different type of counterfeit pill. “He bought a different type of pill and asked the dealer to make sure he gave him a legit one,” she said, “And that ended up killing him.” The impact of fentanyl can be seen in the staggering rise of drug overdose deaths in recent years. In 2021, more than 70,601 overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone, primarily fentanyl, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

She stated that “there are so many different reasons that we’re finding that young adults are turning to pills, whether it’s self-medicating, experimentation, or looking for a high.” She highlighted the importance of getting the right medication for the individual and the right dosage as different types of mental health medication and dosages work differently for different people.

Botwinik stressed the importance of seeking help from the right sources and the dangers of fake pills in the market. She stated that “when we’re dealing with teenagers, all anybody wants is for them to get help and to get better,” and it is vital to reach out to a trusted individual, such as a teacher, parent, or counselor. Individuals struggling with fentanyl addiction should try to seek help as this is the most highly addictive substance one can encounter and is extremely challenging to handle without professional help. Fentanyl has a significant impact on individuals struggling with addiction and substance abuse and highlights the urgent need for prevention and treatment measures.

“Our law enforcement have made numerous arrests, where they have found people driving with thousands and thousands of fentanyl pills in their car”

Botwinik emphasized the need for young adults to reach out for help and utilize resources available to them rather than self-medicating with something off the street or social media, which could prove fatal if they take one of these fake pills containing fentanyl. “There are so many nonprofit organizations in the county that can help people work with counseling, rehabilitation, medical-assisted treatment,” she added. Botwinik had spoken about the various reasons why young adults are turning to prescription pills and the dangers of fake pills that are circulating in the market at Rocklin High School’s Fetanyl assembly in December.

Placer County’s Attorney’s Community Outreach Unit Supervisor, Lisa Botwinik

Furthermore, Botwinik discussed the reluctance of some students to come forward with an addiction due to fear of repercussions from their family or peers. However, she emphasized that help-oriented programs and policies are in place for young adults struggling with addiction. Most schools in Placer County have a “See Something, Say Something” policy and online ways for students to anonymously report concerns or incidents they see.

Botwinik works with the Drug Court program in Placer County, which is an alternative to serving jail time, allowing individuals to serve their time in a treatment program. She emphasized the collaborative efforts of the courts, probation department, health, and human services, and her office to help individuals go through treatment and rehabilitation and turn their lives around. Graduates of the program become productive members of society, which can include being reunified with their children, getting jobs, and even having charges expunged.

According to Botwinik, one of the biggest dangers of fentanyl is that it is often added to counterfeit pills, making it difficult for users to know what they are ingesting. “There’s no way of knowing if that pill contains fentanyl or something else unless it’s tested,” she said. “And the only way to chemically test is to take it to a real laboratory like the Department of Justice, which is where we have our pills tested.”

Attorney Botwinik mentioned that the chemicals that form fentanyl are mostly made in China and are shipped to Mexico, where they are formulated into pill form. Botwinik noted that these pills are not made in clean, regulated pharmaceutical labs, but in dirty, unregulated clandestine labs. This lack of regulation means that the pills are not uniform, making it difficult for users to know what they are getting.

Fake oxycodone M30 tablets laced with fentanyl
Authentic oxycodone M30 tablets

If someone suspects an overdose, the first thing to do is call 911 and, if the person is not breathing, start administering CPR while waiting for emergency responders to arrive. The Attorney stressed the importance of having Narcan on hand for anyone who knows someone who is engaging in dangerous behavior. Narcan is a nasal spray medicine that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and save a person’s life. However, opioid users aren’t able to give themselves NARCAN during a drug overdose. The medication is fortunately quite simple for a friend or family member to administer. She also mentioned the need for increased awareness about the dangers of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. “It’s not just the user who is at risk,” she said, “it’s their families, their friends, their loved ones. We all need to be aware of the dangers and take steps to protect ourselves and each other.”

However, law enforcement has been making progress in seizing large volumes of fentanyl pills, but the problem persists. “Our law enforcement have made numerous arrests, where they have found people driving with thousands and thousands of fentanyl pills in their car…So it’s crazy to see how much they’re seizing and taking off streets, but there’s still so much of it that we’re not catching,” said Botwinik.

In addition to these efforts, Botwinik suggested that law enforcement should focus on going after the people who are manufacturing and distributing these dangerous pills. “We need to hold these people accountable,” she said. She went on to say, “They are profiting off of the deaths and addiction of others, and they need to be stopped.”

To address the negative impact of the issue, Botwinik believes education is key. She cites the example of smoking and how as more people became aware of the health risks, fewer people began to smoke. “50 years ago, people didn’t realize how dangerous smoking was, so everybody smoked. It was the norm … But as time went on, and research was conducted, people realized the horrible medical conditions that smoking caused. It’s that educational piece that made people say, ‘Oh, maybe I don’t want to smoke.’” It is always that constant. Drugs are always changing. False marketing of Fentanyl as a “clean” and “safe” alternative to heroin or other opioids is contributing to its popularity. So there is a crucial need to update education and awareness so people know what those risks are.

Individuals must understand that fentanyl is not just another recreational drug, but a highly potent substance that can lead to fatal consequences. It is imperative to seek help and support for oneself or loved ones who may be struggling with fentanyl addiction. People can educate themselves on fentanyl by consulting reliable sources and seeking information from healthcare professionals or community resources. The impact of fentanyl extends far beyond the individual user, and it is up to everyone to take action and work towards a safer future for all.


Being An Eyewitness of Fentanyl’s Terrible Toll

Fire Chief Jesse Alexander has been serving in the Fire Department for 23 years (Chico Fire for 19 1/2 years and 3 1/2 years at Yuba City Fire). During his career, he has witnessed the devastating impacts of fentanyl on both the public and emergency responders. Alexander shared his experiences and insights on the dangers of fentanyl and the importance of educating the public about this lethal substance.

“14 people suffered overdose symptoms, resulting in 6 cardiac arrests … and ultimately 1 fatality,”

Alexander shared a personal experience while dealing with fentanyl on the job from when he was the Incident Commander for the largest mass overdose due to fentanyl in US history. “14 people suffered overdose symptoms, resulting in 6 cardiac arrests … and ultimately 1 fatality,” said Alexander. This overdose was done by dab pens which are devices used for vaporizing cannabis concentrates. Dab pens are not the same as vape pens, which are used for e-liquids. When explaining his experiences with fentanyl and how it affects firefighters on the job, he said, “It takes an emotional toll on firefighters when dealing with the fatal effects of any overdose.”

One of the greatest dangers to first responders is accidental exposure to fentanyl. However, to decrease that risk, strict safety protocols are in place. Chief Alexander emphasized the importance of treating all medical emergencies the same by following safety protocols when on the scene of an incident involving fentanyl. These protocols include scene safety and body substance isolation. “Accidental absorption through the skin takes several hours and can be quickly mitigated,” said Alexander. Proper use and disposal of medical gloves to prevent accidental skin absorption are essential.

Yuba City Fire Chief Jesse Alexander

Chief Alexander also spoke about the impact of fentanyl-related incidents on first responders and the community, stating, “the increase in usage and resulting overdoses from fentanyl creates a ‘draw down’ in fire, paramedic, law, and hospital services. The impact to the community is similar to other highly addictive substances, including devastating results to family and loved ones from the high overdose rate.”

Alexander wants students to know that “… accepting any type of pill or drug (outside of prescription medication from a pharmacy) carries a risk of accidental or intentional contamination with fentanyl.” He stressed the importance of seeking help for addiction and substance abuse issues. “It is highly addictive, difficult to identify, easily accessible, and extremely lethal,” said Alexander. He also advised people struggling with addiction to seek help as this is the most highly addictive substance one can encounter and is extremely challenging to handle without professional help. Fentanyl impacts individuals struggling with addiction and substance abuse, so there is an urgent need for prevention and treatment measures.

“Public service announcements, education in schools & colleges, and community outreach to vulnerable groups,” can all help to contribute to education and outreach to vulnerable groups, said Alexander.