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Over the weekend, a dramatic video went viral claiming to show a police officer overdosing on fentanyl after it was “inhaled or absorbed in the skin,” as the San Diego Sheriff tweeted.
That story has rightfully been disputed by medical experts, yet the tweet remains pinned on the San Diego Sheriff’s Twitter. Unfortunately, this is just one of countless times we’ve seen irresponsible stories perpetuating the myth that simply touching fentanyl can lead to intoxication, overdose, or even death.
We must focus on the facts if we want to save lives during this overdose crisis. Yet as we’ve seen time and time again, the war on drugs makes it easy to spread dangerous myths about drugs with little pushback, often leading to disastrous consequences. It leads to bad public policy that continue to criminalize people, instead of investing in health-based alternatives that work.
Fentanyl has become the latest target of drug war panic, creating a wave of fear among the public often based on bad information. The media and law enforcement have played a key role in circulating these stories claiming just touching fentanyl can lead to overdose and far too many people believe it. It must stop now.
Myths and misinformation about drugs can have detrimental effects. In the case of fentanyl, these false stories do not accurately teach the public how to identify the signs of opioid overdose or empower them to help in an emergency.
It is unconscionable and completely irresponsible for law enforcement organizations to continue fabricating false narratives around fentanyl. Content like this simply creates more fear and irrational panic that fuels further punitive responses to the overdose crisis, instead of the public health approach we need. We already know how this story goes, because we experienced it in the 80’s and 90’s with crack-cocaine. Law enforcement-driven, media-perpetuated hysteria inevitably leads to extreme racially-biased enforcement and mandatory minimum sentencing.
Lawmakers respond to these myths by ramping up punishment instead of focusing on evidence-based solutions. In fact, earlier this year, Congress and President Biden extended a terrible Trump-era policy increasing the use of severe mandatory minimum sentences for fentanyl-related substances.
We are all concerned about overdose and fentanyl. Therefore, science and evidence must guide our approach.
Help us fight back against myths and hysteria by learning and sharing the facts about fentanyl. You can also take action by telling the Biden administration to focus on a public health solution to fentanyl not doubling down on punishment.
Drug Policy Alliance