The signs, with their white background and large black text, are “stark and bleak,” said the Rev. Ron Tibbets. That is by design.
Tibbetts and other leaders at the Trinity Episcopal Church in Wrentham, Mass. decided in August 2017 that it was time to raise awareness of the devastating opioid crisis consuming their community and many others across Massachusetts and the country. They embarked on a campaign to demonstrate its raw impact, developing signs marked with a simple “#2069.”
The reason for that figure? There were 2,069 opioid-related deaths in 2016 in Massachusetts.
The grassroots campaign by the church has generated widespread awareness in and around Wrentham, yet the crisis persists. The latest emerging threat is carfentanil, a synthetic opioid that is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and is commonly used as an elephant tranquilizer. In September 2016, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued its first warning about the health and safety risks of carfentanil, directed toward both the public and law enforcement agents who may come in contact with the deadly substance.
Meanwhile, news headlines have been difficult to avoid: Carfentanil overdoses bring sobering reminder about dangers of opioid abuse … Euclid man had enough carfentanil to 'kill tens of thousands of people,' U.S. Attorney says … Carfentanil: The drug of mass destruction.
In a series of articles on opioids in November, Chemical & Engineering News offered a look at how the chemistry community is helping tackle the crisis. They too are tired of seeing the news headlines. The series points to technological advancements such as handheld Raman spectroscopy, which is featured in the Thermo Scientific TruNarc handheld narcotics analyzer. The instrument now makes it easier for officers to detect illicit substances in the field, including new drugs (the TruNarc onboard library continues to expand, most recently adding the ability to detect carfentanil).
“Chemical instrument companies have been updating and adapting handheld Raman spectrometers, initially designed to identify explosives for hazmat teams and bomb squads, to identify illicit drugs,” according to Chemical & Engineering News in a story titled “Powerful detection technology for powerful new street drugs.” According to one piece, “The devices collect spectra produced when laser light scatters from molecules in the sample, and they match the spectra to those in a built-in library for various drugs, analogs, drug precursors and cutting agents.”
Another article profiles Lieutenant Detective Patrick Glynn of the Quincy (Mass.) Police Department, which uses TruNarc analyzers. According to Glynn, the department currently has three analyzers, and he estimates that officers use them approximately 50 times per week. Frequent use by law enforcement nationwide keeps drugs off the streets and, in some cases, speeds prosecution so that abusers can access treatment faster and have a better chance of recovery.
To view the entire series of articles on the opioid crisis by Chemical & Engineering News, click here.
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