Recently, a group of law enforcement agencies announced they had arrested two people and seized a large amount of illegal drugs in what they said was one of the largest drug busts of its kind ever in Georgia’s White County. According to the law enforcement agencies, officers seized substances including marijuana, black tar heroin, crack cocaine and 500 grams of methamphetamine, but what received the most media attention was the reported seizure of 168 grams of fentanyl.
In recent years, fentanyl has been implicated in a high number of fatal overdoses. It has also set off a kind of moral panic, with television programs and other sources spreading misinformation about the dangers of the drug. These horror stories can frighten the public into demanding harsher treatment of people accused of fentanyl-related crimes.
What is fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is considered to be as much as 100 times more potent than morphine. Doctors use fentanyl as a powerful pain reliever to treat patients who have recently had surgery. In some cases, doctors prescribe it to patients to treat chronic pain. In the medical field, it is often administered in the form of injections, lozenges or patches that stick to the skin.
Because it is considered to be valuable in medicine, fentanyl is classified as a Schedule II drug under federal law. This means it is a highly regulated substance, but not quite as tightly controlled as heroin and other illegal drugs.
In recent years, as opioid addiction reached epidemic proportions in many parts of the country, fentanyl became popular as a powerful and relatively inexpensive street drug. Users consumer it in powders, pills, blotter papers and even eyedrops.
Because it is so powerful, it is relatively easy for people to overdose on fentanyl. According to some reports, fentanyl is now among the most common drugs involved in accidental overdose deaths. It was reportedly to blame for 59% of opioid overdose deaths in 2017. Just a few years earlier, it had been involved in just 14% of opioid overdose deaths.
Scare stories and harsh penalties
These statistics show that fentanyl represents a growing danger, but the media perception of the danger is often overblown. Television news programs often report stories about people suffering fatal overdoses from merely touching a small amount of the substance. These stories are almost certainly exaggerated, if not outright false. But once these stories have become familiar to the public, it’s hard to dissuade people of their beliefs.
For a person who is accused of fentanyl-related crimes, all this background can make it difficult to stage a defense. They may feel like the public is out for their blood.
Everyone who has been accused of a crime has the right to a defense. When the media are whipping up the public into a frenzy, and the potential consequences of a conviction are serious, it is especially important for the accused to seek out experienced help for their criminal defense.