PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) -- First responders and law enforcement officers have been overcome just by being in the presence of the toxic opiate, fentanyl.
After an anonymous survey the Miriam Hospital conducted in Rhode Island recently, researchers presented evidence that drug users are now assuming fentanyl is in all heroin sold in New England.
Gov. Gina Raimondo's Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force met for the final time in 2018 on Wednesday morning at the Department of Administration building, discussing plans for the next several years for prevention, treatment and recovery.
As part of the meeting, Michelle McKenzie of The Miriam Hospital presented research including direct quotes from drug users. The Miriam's team worked with local needle exchanges and recovery facilities in collecting the information.
Their survey sample was 100 users, all anonymous, surveyed in the spring and summer of 2018, with 67 of them in "qualitative" or substantial interviews.
Approximately 63% of the people The Miriam team talked to reported using fentanyl.
Fentanyl has completely saturated the heroin supply, McKenzie said, presenting quotes from the interviews: "You think you're getting heroin and you're getting fentanyl," one user said.
Many other drugs have been adulterated with it, too: "It's like you notice that there's fentanyl and it's not the drug you're going for. It's like, what's the point, unless you have a little lab kit or something. That's the only way you can tell," a user was quoted.
"I consider it the same thing because there's no heroin out there without fentanyl in it anymore," another user said.
One user said fentanyl can even turn up in cocaine, methamphetamine, or marijuana -- and nobody knows the levels or ratios. "I don't think you can avoid it now," the user said.
"People who don't have a tolerance to opioids -- when the fentanyl is laced in, like, cocaine -- are much more susceptible to overdose," McKenzie said.
McKenzie believes the use of fentanyl test strips will go way up in 2019.
McKenzie said fentanyl is like likely in all heroin, even if the drug dealer doesn't disclose it.
"I use less because I don't know if there's fentanyl in it," one person was quoted.
"I try to reduce what I use... I'll reduce it and test it first," another said.
A person who abuses Klonopin said they "make sure they're from a pharmacy," because people are pressing their own pills with adulterated material.
A bright spot, McKenzie said, was that naloxone is in wide awareness and use. Of those surveyed, 85% knew naloxone basics, 65% had carried naloxone in the past 12 months and 40% had used naloxone in the last 12 months.
Nearly half of the survey respondents said they'd used methadone; but others also said they used a drug called buprenorphine -- which can prevent serious withdrawal symptoms.