Last week, Indiana Statesman had the opportunity to interview Michael Gannon, of the DEA, about the impact of fentanyl in Indiana. Gannon states that fentanyl seems to have the worst cases of dangerous activity stemming from its use. “In Indianapolis in 2021, the Marion County coroner’s office stated that over 5,006 overdoses occurred, 398 of those overdoses were opioid and fentanyl related. In Vigo County, there were 28 overdose-related deaths,” Gannon states.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Fentanyl “is a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic similar to morphine…It is typically used to treat patients with severe pain or manage pain after surgery, [and] sometimes used to treat patients with chronic pain who are physically tolerant to other opioids. In its prescription form, fentanyl is known by names such as Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze”.

Over the years, fentanyl has been increasingly found in counterfeit pills. “Throughout the DEA on the national level, we have seized 9.5 million counterfeit pills,” Gannon states. “In Indiana alone, we have seized hundreds of thousands of counterfeit pills, and we have seized numerous kilograms of powdered fentanyl – some of [these] kilograms have Chinese imprints on them. Of those kilograms that have been seized, it would affect 27,000,000 people with fatal dosage units.” Gannon also stated that “40% of counterfeit oxycodone is laced with fentanyl.”

Gannon states that “Fentanyl is fifty times more potent than heroin, and one hundred times more potent than morphine.” Gannon also notes, especially to college students, that “There is no socioeconomic boundary when it comes to addiction. Anybody can get hooked on prescription drugs.” It can also be extremely difficult when a drug that was originally used in a hospital setting is now one of the leading substances causing addiction and overdose-related deaths. Gannon also highlights the importance of stopping addiction at the source, which is usually trauma and mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. “It is so important that we build people’s self-esteem so they don’t turn to addiction,” Gannon states.

Gannon reached out to Indiana Statesman on the intent of educating students and faculty about the dangers of abusing prescription drugs. There have been many reports nationwide of students purchasing and selling prescription pills such as Xanax (most commonly used to treat severe anxiety) and Adderall (most commonly used to treat ADHD), and students are taking a large risk because those pills could be laced with deadly substances, such as fentanyl. “You have to understand that one pill can kill,” Gannon states. “College kids don’t equate a pill to shooting up, [but] cartels don’t care about us, they just want to get us hooked. If you didn’t get it from a pharmacy, don’t take it…The end game is for drug dealers to make money. They don’t care about your health." 

Gannon also shared a shocking statistic. “[According to] the CDC, 93,000 people die from overdose, and of that, 68,000 of those deaths are opioid related.”

Gannon highlights the importance of Indiana as a state taking steps to decrease drug overdoses and violent crimes related to drug abuse. “We will continue to work hand in hand with state and local law enforcement,” Gannon states.

Gannon also shared that the DEA hosts events to decrease the abuse of prescription pills, and would like to garner awareness towards them. One of these events is Red Ribbon Week, which is “a good way to raise awareness on drug prevention.” The DEA also has a program called operationprevention.com, which Gannon describes as a “free web-based program where people can see stories about how drug addictions affect people. It’s a great resource and it’s very important.” 

The DEA also has a program called the National Takeback Initiative every year in October. “[It’s for] individuals who have unused prescription medication. It’s an opportunity to drop it off, and the DEA picks it up [to reduce the risk of] getting misused.”

It is important to note that addiction is a disease, and it can create a disease in the families of those addicted to drugs such as opioids. There becomes a dynamic of codependency among enablers and addicts, and addiction can be hereditary. Trauma can also be passed down from generation to generation, going hand in hand with addiction. Gannon states that the problem is not the people with addictions that need help, but the people distributing these harmful drugs to make money, such as dealers and cartels. Gannon states that “If we can change one life, then it’s worth it. We are sick and tired of seeing families crushed because of greedy people pedaling this poison.”

If you or someone you love is struggling with opioid addiction, you can visit the Student Counseling Center or call 1-800-662-4357 to seek help.