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Overdose Treatment Inventor Creating New Drug to Combat Fentanyl Overdoses

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, has been used for decades as a painkiller in the operating room. Joe Amon/The Denver Post/Getty Images
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, has been used for decades as a painkiller in the operating room. Joe Amon/The Denver Post/Getty Images

As many young Americans continue to overdose on fentanyl, the inventor of the Narcan opioid overdose treatment is working on creating a new drug antidote to combat the ongoing fentanyl crisis. This latest development comes as many lawmakers, parents, and activists call on the government and private sector to do more to help curtail the fentanyl crisis, which has taken the lives of many in the United States.

With fentanyl being morepowerfulthan prescription pills and heroin and setting off the overdose crisis, Narcan's development to reverse the effects of those drugs is less effective against fentanyl, leading to over 107,000 Americans killed by overdoses in 2021 and at least 932,0000 deaths since 1999. Now, healthcare companies like Opiant Pharmaceuticals are taking notice of this crisis and are retrofitting their medicine to combat such overdose deaths.

According to Opiant Pharmaceuticals officials, the data of the number of opioids being prescribed in the U.S. compared to anywhere else in the world is "far, far, higher," going in one direction and leading to an increase in overdose deaths. Roger Crystal, a surgeon from Britain and inventor of Narcan, and head of Opiant Pharmaceuticals argues that through overdose treatments like Naloxone, paramedics and hospital staff can quickly intervene to fight against the effects of fentanyl and other opioids. While opioid drugs can block the body's automatic breathing mechanism, cutting the supply of oxygen to the brain, opioid antagonists like Naloxone can block drugs from opioid receptors in the brain.

Crystal's company adapted Naloxone into a nasal spray called Narcan to allow bystanders to do what paramedics and hospital workers do when faced with victims of fentanyl and opioid overdoses. However, today, Narcan is considered less effective, given how strong, faster-acting, and longer-lasting fentanyl has become. According to reports, drug victims today have reported that they or loved ones they know have had multiple doses of Narcan to counteract a fentanyl overdose, with police and EMTs hesitant to use more than two doses to save someone.

The new drug developed by Crystal and Opiant, OPNT003, replaces Naloxone with an opioid antagonist called Nalmefene and will be a nasal spray. According to Crystal, the drug has properties that make it "potentially better suited" for overdoses from synthetic opioids, including fentanyl. Data from animal studies on Nalmefene indicate there is no risk in taking it and human test trials show it acting faster, stronger, and longer. Crystal also argues that while saving lives from fentanyl overdoses is critical, reversing overdoses quickly is more important because the long extensive brain damage within minutes of an overdose can lead to severe health problems.

The new drug is currently facing the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) approval process and will go to government agencies and law enforcement. Some predict that universities and parents will be interested, given that many counterfeit prescription drugs are popular with young Americans aged 18-45, causing many deaths.

The increase in fentanyl overdoses in the U.S. has resulted from the ongoing border crises near the Southern border between the U.S. and Mexico. Since taking office in 2020, the Biden Administration and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have faced increased migrant influxes and rampant drug trafficking from Mexico into the U.S., leading to illegal and dangerous drugs like fentanyl landing in the hands of young Americans. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has stated that the border remains secure, citing several instances of Border Patrol Agents preventing drug trafficking operations.

However, reports from agents on the ground indicate that the crisis at the border is continuing to increase, with migrant deaths occurring and drug cartels transporting their products throughout America. In states like California, Oregon, and Arizona, state and local police have found illegal drugs like fentanyl throughout different cities, with some shaped like candy, making it more appealing to children. 

Family and friends of victims of fentanyl overdoses have called on the federal government and state officials to crack down on the spread of fentanyl before it is too late.

In Congress, Republican and Democrat representatives in the House and Senate have called on the Biden administration to take the issue of Border Security more seriously, calling on DHS officials to explain what they are doing to prevent such influxes and drug trafficking from occurring. With the November Midterms approaching, Republicans throughout America are campaigning against President Biden and his administration's reversal of border policies from the Trump era, arguing that once in power, they will do everything they can to hold the administration accountable for their actions.

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