Skidmarks: Superbike Lollipops

I never smoke to excess – that is, I smoke in moderation, only one cigar at a time.

—Mark Twain

I meet a lot of different kinds of people in my non-motojournalism day job, which is driving for on-demand ride services. I met a dude who makes a good living brokering rare concert t-shirts. I met a guy who played the cavaquinho (which everybody knows is a sort of Brazilian ukulele) for me. I also met a woman from the Sakhalin Islands, which (according to this nice young lady) the Japanese are never getting back, even though they think they might someday.

I also met an anesthesiologist, and we had a nice chat about one of my favorite subjects, recreational pharmacology. “So what’s the best recreational painkiller, in your opinion?” She thought about it for a moment just a moment and told me about Fentanyl lollipops, which are a thing.

Fentanyl, as you may or may not know, is a synthetic opioid that’s a mere 100 times more potent than heroin, just in case you were under the illusion that Man could not improve on nature. It makes Oxycodone look like Tylenol PM and can be deadly if your system isn’t already in full William S. Burroughs mode. Calling it “powerful” is like calling the music of Insane Clown Posse “angry.” Who needs such powerful medication? Aside from MO staffers returning from overseas press launches, Fentanyl is prescribed for what’s called “breakthrough” pain: pain so severe or persistent that it breaks through the painkillers the patient is already using. It’s the pharmaceutical equivalent of supercharging a Hayabusa.

Fentanyl lozenge

Cephalon is also developing a Fentanyl Tootsie Pop with a soft, chewy Darvon center.

Used the right way, Fentanyl is a Godsend for those suffering from chronic pain, especially in end-of-life situations. It’s technology used for the best of human emotions: compassion. And then there are the lollipops.

Developed by Cephalon pharmaceuticals, the Fentanyl lozenge – it’s marketed under the brand name Actiq – is useful because the Fentanyl molecule is small enough to be absorbed efficiently and quickly through your mucous membranes, and the lollipop – sorry, “lozenge” – is a convenient way to self-administer for chronic sufferers. But could they have possibly come up with a drug more prone to abuse? I mean a lollipop? Really? As if that doesn’t scream “recreational!”

“Oh, no,” the researchers at Cephalon might say in their defense, “we only offer it in raspberry, so it’s not as tempting, because nobody likes raspberry.” No sir, can’t get hooked on that, especially since it comes in boxes of 30, which is the equivalent of only 3,000 doses of heroin. In all seriousness, Fentanyl abuse has taken a huge number of lives – thousands each year – including music legend Prince. But Cephalon and other companies are still churning out boxes of lollys and patches and pills because there are plenty of people that really do need the stuff, which I suppose makes up for the children, siblings, friends and parents we’ve lost? Who knows? I’m no medical ethicist. I’m not even particularly ethical, which is why I don’t feel bad cashing checks for writing this column.

Ironically, the same need for Fentanyl-laced party favors is also why we have superbikes, right? Because somebody, somewhere needs 180 horsepower, and since we’re trained, experienced, insured and licensed, we can handle it, right? Yes, you say, nodding your head. I can handle it. And I don’t have to have raspberry if I don’t like raspberry. Today we have a dizzying array of mega-powered, mega-awesome motorcycles, from the BMW S1000RR and KTM 1290 Super Duke, with their civilized and manageable engine mapping and rider aids, to the more raw and brutal bikes like Kawasaki’s supercharged H2R.


Duke knows if he goes too fast, he can always get a Fentanyl prescription. It’s win-win!

It used to be that manufacturers didn’t want to give us full-on World Superbike performance. Remember when a Yamaha YZF-R1 only made 130-ish hp? Ha, ha! How quaint! Or BMW’s high-tech, top-of-the-line K1 that made under 100 horsies? And that was fine! You can’t sell a 600 these days making under 100 ponies, unless it’s marketed to beginners.

I’m not being nostalgic or disapproving in any way of the mega-powered bikes. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this trend at all. In fact, I’m not sure why I’m comparing them to Fentanyl. Rather than causing a spike in motorcycle deaths in the way synthetic opioids accelerated the tragedy of drug abuse and addiction in our country, you could likely shuffle some stats around and argue that since the rate of motorcycle fatalities have remained more-or-less the same for the last decade, access to cheap and plentiful horsepower has had no effect. When it comes to motorcycle safety, any theory is as good as another, because, let’s face it, nobody really knows how to reduce motorcycle fatalities or even what affects the rate. Maybe we should have reverse-tier licensing, where beginners start on GSX-R1000s and work their way down to smaller bikes as their skills improve. They’d certainly learn throttle control.

Like the recreational drug-using community, motorcyclists have their share of rhymes-with-‘duck-nards’, but I think they’re a minority. Sure, motorcyclists die from having too much power, but most crashes are the cause of too much blood alcohol, too little skill, or just plain bad judgment that would have filled a casket regardless of how much power was going to the back wheel. And while candy laced with the most powerful narcotic imaginable doesn’t have to be abused, it’s difficult – I would say impossible – to avoid breaking the law on an R1 in the land of 70-mph speed limits. Over-powered motorcycles are now almost the norm, yet the fatality rate is pretty much where it was a decade ago.

KTM 1290 Super Duke R

Tom Roderick abusing his drug of choice.

It blows my mind that a consumer product as irresponsible as a 200-mph motorcycle continues to hit the showrooms year after year, while innocent lil’ Cephalon was almost sued to pieces for cranking out its medical-grade treats. Then again, the company makes way more Chet Baker pops than all the terminal cancer patients could possible use, because it knows many of them will wind up in the hands of people who don’t need them, and may even die in a wave of berry-flavored bliss

So kudos to you, open-class riders, for responsibly (mostly) using your superbikes. You can have too much cake and eat it too, even if it has raspberry frosting.

Gabe Ets-Hokin is a rodent native to the Willamette Valley of northwestern Oregon in the United States. The herbivorous mammal collects its food in large, fur-lined, external cheek pouches, then hoards any surplus in underground tunnels.

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