"What if we had a lollipop that had (fentanyl) in it?" a doctor named Ted Stanley asked himself back in 1983.
Nineteen-eighty-three was way different than 2019. In 1983, there weren't tens of thousands of overdose deaths from opioids. Fentanyl wasn't a huge cause of the overdoses. Fentanyl was a prescription painkiller used by surgeons, veterinarians and regular doctors. (It still is.)
Kids were given fentanyl to knock them out before surgery. And Ted Stanley wondered, what if there was an easier way to get children anesthetized than a needle and a shot? He and colleagues put carfentanil in some sugar cubes and gave them to some primates and watched them get knocked the fuck out, according to his obituary in the New York Times.
He added fruit flavoring and pretty colors to his lollipop, and invented a great new tool for health care professionals. It was a success story.
The fentanyl lollipop wasn't approved by the government until 1998, when it became a huge source of profits for its makers. Kids who needed surgery no longer needed shots.
It didn't make its way onto the streets in large numbers until later, when it was sold as Actiq.
But when it did, it took on the street name of Perc-o-pop, and became one of the most popular ways to ingest a substance that is 50 to 100 times more powerful than heroin. Bliss was fruit-flavored. Pain relief was no longer bitter. And it made Big Pharma billions.
Sales reps pushed doctors to prescribe the lollipop for conditions besides children's surgery. America likes to solve its problems quickly, by covering them up, without really addressing them. What better way than a lollipop? Sure, the root of the problem is still there, festering.
Pretty soon, regular people with back aches and joint pain were sucking on the lollipop.
Hey, America, I know you're in trouble. Want a lollipop?
About ten years ago, the tide of public sentiment shifted against the lollipop. In 2008, the government fined the company those sales reps worked for, Cephalon, $425 million for paying off doctors to hand out the lollipop to people who didn't really need it. (The current head of the FDA, Scott Gottlieb, helped procure Cephalon more of the fentanyl they needed for the lollipop when he was in a lesser role at the FDA.)
In 2019, few people think a fentanyl lollipop is a good idea. Its manufacturers are being sued over the lollipop by states, cities and counties across the country, as a huge cause of the opioid black death we're living through now.
But the fentanyl lollipop still exists. You can still talk some doctors into giving it to you. And Ted Stanley's legacy lives on, as does the answer to his simple question:
What happens if you put fentanyl in a lollipop?
A lot of people will feel better. And a lot of other people will die.