Today, I am taking the first ten minutes of each of my classes to talk about drug brain and the newest evil: Fentanyl.

Our unit on Neurobiology has taught us that we build pathways in our brains all the time through repeated behavior (Cue the background music, Macklemore’s 10,000 hours). This is the way drug brain works, grow up in an environment where drugs are normal and common (yes, alcohol counts) and you get used to their use and abuse. Simple.

We talk a lot about weed in my class and the smart kids eventually get it.  But this isn’t about weed.

According to Don Winslow writer for Esquire, who knows a little bit about this kind of thing, the heroin and fentanyl flood of the last few years is the direct result of Mexican drug cartels losing marijuana income due to American legalization. No more weed market meant the cartels turned to heroin at a time when America’s appetite for opiates, due to insane overprescribing, was rising. Kind of a perfect addiction storm, hook America on Oxycontin and Vicodin and Valium then when little Johnny likes how he feels even though his knee has healed, provide a cheaper alternative.

Enter Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid thirty times stronger than heroin, developed in 1960 for treatment of severe pain. A kilo has a street value of 1.3 million compared to heroin at 275 thousand. Cheaper, more powerful, easier to make, at a time when the appetite is growing. Winslow calls fentanyl the new crack and the parallels make sense.

Beyond Prince, who overdosed in April, there have been an astounding number of recent local deaths including 14 in Sacramento. Scarier still are the seven patients in Bay Area hospitals who thought they were ingesting Norco (a popular pain killer) but did not know the pills had been adulterated with fentanyl. That is why we are talking about the issue, it is in Sonoma.

We all want to feel good but if you or someone you know is relying upon substances rather than experiences to get high, help them or help yourself. Change your drug brain and start building new pathways. The war on drugs should focus on individual users, not cartels. Stop the demand and the supply dies.

Education, once again, is the answer.