Photo by Tim Harris, Dignity City
Justin Brodeur's streetwise column "The Blues" will appear in Dignity City regularly.
SWEET NUTHIN' | COMMENTARY
By Justin Brodeur Dignity City columnist
The opioid epidemic has begun to shift into a fentanyl epidemic. This brings with it a greater level of danger to both addicts, and those who use illicit drugs in general. There were more than 100,000 overdose deaths in 2021 with a large percentage of those attributed to fentanyl. This is the most overdose death ever recorded in a 12-month period, a 30 percent increase compared with the previous year.
The first thing you should know is that it’s everywhere. It’s cheap and easy for the cartels to produce and transport, so they have almost cornered the North American market. After reaping huge profits for a minimal investment, they have begun to lace other drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, MDMA and to manufacture a plethora of counterfeit pharmaceuticals with fentanyl. People coming off methamphetamine have been surprised to find that they are suffering from opioid withdrawal.
Finding yourself addicted to this drug is easier than you might think. Due to the opioid epidemic, which was firmly entrenched in this country before fentanyl became an issue, the guidelines on prescribing opiates have been severely tightened. This sometimes leads people to seek pain relief on the streets. Depending on who you know, a 30M (a 30mg, “blue” pill) can cost as little as $10. Two milligrams of fentanyl can be fatal to a fully-grown adult with no tolerance to opioids. So, that $10 can get you quite a bit of mileage, at first. Like any opioid, tolerance to the drug’s effect builds rapidly. I’ve known people who claim habits of between 50 to100 pills a day. And, while it’s always smart to take people in the drug world’s words with a grain of salt, those numbers probably aren’t too far off the mark.
Big tolerances don’t just mean that it takes more drugs for someone to get high, it also means that it takes larger quantities for them to keep from getting sick. Fentanyl withdrawal can begin to set in in as little as three hours after the last use. The symptoms are a real bitch. They include body pains, like your bones are breaking themselves, restless leg syndrome, vomiting and diarrhea, fever and chills, night terrors — when you can sleep — and soul-crushing depths of depression that make you wish for death just so it all stops. The list goes on. That’s the first few days; symptoms can last, with varying severity, for several weeks. That’s what makes it so difficult for people to quit. Imagine the worst, dog-sick flu you’ve ever had, and imagine that you could make it all go away for $10. I don’t care how tough you think you are, that’s a hard proposition for anybody.
As you can imagine, maintaining a habit that large requires a lot of illegal economic maneuverings — even if you are getting the wholesale discount. Maneuverings such as: All that brand-new stuff on customer-to-customer websites — yup; those aftermarket truck parts that cousin Billy got such a great deal on — probably; cutting catalytic converters out of cars — definitely. That’s just a few. There are as many hustles out there as there are hustlers. Some hustlers are quite genius. They’re people who could go far in business if their lives flipped that way.
I realize that all I’ve achieved here is a very crude snapshot of a very complicated issue. But please remember that with 21 million people living with addiction in this country, it’s statistically unlikely that someone you know and love isn’t a part of that number. Keep in mind when you hear about the fentanyl epidemic, that even the “lowest” among us deserves dignity.
Justin Brodeur, while eschewing higher education in favor of more blue-collar pursuits, has always sought to educate himself. He has traveled extensively across the United States and worked variously at a number of occupations. For the past few years, he has lived on the streets of Tacoma.