Originally published by Texas Medical Association on December 13, 2022.
The holidays are a time of joy and celebration for many, but they could turn tragic if someone takes one pill they should not. Substance misuse – especially unwittingly taking street drugs that contain fentanyl – can destroy a life.
“The use of mind-altering substances is always more prevalent during the holidays. Unfortunately, this holiday season the risks of death are much higher because so many pills contain illegally manufactured fentanyl (IMF),” said CM Schade, MD, member of the Texas Medical Association (TMA) and past president of the Texas Pain Society (TPS). A very small amount of IMF is deadly, and people taking drugs laced with IMF are completely unaware that the pill they are consuming could kill them.
As uncomfortable a subject as it might be to address, Dr. Schade urges parents to discuss this with teenagers and young adults at home on the holiday school break. He also suggests adults heed this advice, too.
“If you got a pill from a friend or bought it off the street and it has IMF in it, it could seriously harm or kill you. If it was in the medicine cabinet but not prescribed to you, it could seriously harm or kill you as well,” said Dr. Schade. “Don’t take a chance on these; it’s just not worth it.”
Dr. Schade has some tips for Texans to stay safe:
- Don’t take pills containing opioids unless prescribed to you by a physician for a health issue like chronic or severe pain relief. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration warns that six out of 10 fake pills contain lethal doses of fentanyl. It is very difficult to tell counterfeit drugs from legitimate ones, so the danger is very real that someone may consume a pill that could be deadly.
- During gatherings with loved ones, it is important to be vigilant with prescription medication. Lock up your medication. You don’t want anyone taking your prescription drugs knowingly or unknowingly.
- If someone is struggling with opioid use disorder and is at risk of an overdose, be proactive and have the opioid antidote naloxone available in case of emergency. In Texas, naloxone is available at most pharmacies under a standing order from a physician.
Additionally, physicians point to resources for young people who might consider turning to drugs because of depression and anxiety, as well as resources for people who need help with substance use disorder and behavioral health needs.
Throughout the year, TMA and TPS physicians have been raising awareness about the dangers of illegally manufactured fentanyl. In September, Dr. Schade testified before the Texas House Committee on Public Health presenting new legislative solutions to address the problem. Among other recommendations, TMA and TPS advocated for relaxing opioid prescribing guidelines so patients with chronic pain get the help they need and don’t turn to street drugs, making naloxone available over the counter, and legalizing fentanyl testing strips so someone could test whether a pill has IMF in it.
“Whether someone unwittingly took a bad pill for recreational use, or to sleep better, or because they feel depressed, or for whatever reason, it’s simply a bad decision to take something off the streets or not prescribed to you,” Dr. Schade said. “The result could be tragic anytime, but even worse during the holidays.”
TMA is the largest state medical society in the nation, representing more than 56,000 physicians and medical student members. It is located in Austin and has 110 component county medical societies around the state. TMA’s key objective since 1853 is to improve the health of all Texans.
TPS is a 501c6 nonprofit organization that represents over 350 pain specialists in Texas. It is the largest state pain society in the nation.