There is no question that prescription drugs such as OxyContin and Vicodin have surely played their part in contributing to the opioid crisis. Nonetheless, there is more influencing this epidemic than just the over prescription of pain medication and negligence of greedy doctors.
As we take new measures to address the overprescribing of prescription opioids in our country, we must be aware of a bigger threat. One, that new reports tell us, has become the number killer of the opioid epidemic.
What we are talking about are synthetic drugs, such as Fentanyl, and its counterparts. While Fentanyl is a prescription opioid used for the treatment of chronic or extraordinary pain, such as that associated with a major trauma or cancer, it is not the prescription form that has taken hold of addicts across the country.
The Fentanyl we are describing is that which is illegally manufactured, shipped, and mixed into drugs like heroin and cocaine, each and every day in America. These forms of synthetic drugs are especially dangerous, because often times, users have no idea that they are present in the drugs they are purchasing.
So, what are the new reports telling us, and is there anything that can be done to stop it?
Synthetic Drugs Now Responsible for the Majority of Opioid Overdoses
A new report published by JAMA shows outstanding, and alarming results. The study calculated the number and percentage of synthetic opioid-related overdose deaths between 2010 and 2016, using death certificates from the National Vital Statistics System.
Roughly 46% of the 42,249 opioid-related overdose deaths involved synthetic drugs in 2016, whereas 40% involved prescription opioids. That is more than a three-fold increase from to 2010, where 14% of cases involved synthetic drugs.
What’s more, the research performed by JAMA did not include death certificates that did not specify drug type. Lead author on the report and director of the National Mental Health and Substance Use Policy Laboratory at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Christopher Jones said, “Somewhere between 15 and 25% of the overdose deaths don’t list specific drugs. So, the actual numbers are likely higher.”
Lindsay LaSalle, senior staff attorney for the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance believes the majority of synthetic drugs were illegally made and shipped into our country. She tells CNN, “Almost all of the increases in overdose deaths are attributed to illicitly manufactured Fentanyl, not pharmaceutical Fentanyl that has been misused or diverted. And we know that because the number of prescriptions for pharmaceutical Fentanyl has remained relatively stable over the past decade, whereas seizures of illicitly manufactured Fentanyl has skyrocketed.”
Other reports support the findings of JAMA. In Philadelphia, the number of opioid related overdose deaths surpassed that of any other major city in the U.S. The Medical Examiner’s office reported 1,217 deaths in 2017 from drug overdoses, where Fentanyl was found more than any other drug.
Additionally, while many believe this crisis has affected a majority of white citizens, that is not the case in Philadelphia. In 2017, opioid overdose deaths rose 60% among Hispanics, 34% among Blacks, and 47% among Whites, proving that this epidemic crosses all demographic boundaries.
Why Is This Happening?
It is difficult to really say why so many illicitly manufactured synthetic drugs are making their way into our country and on our streets, but experts believe the main reason is cost.
These chemical compounds are being made in laboratories in countries such as China, and then shipped to regions in Mexico. From there, the cartel and other dealers are mixing these synthetic drugs with heroin, cocaine, and other substances, and they are then shipped across our borders. Often times, American dealers are even unaware of the product in which they are purchasing.
Nonetheless, many believe this is taking place because when you mix drugs like Fentanyl with heroin, you are able to create more with less. Synthetic drugs are easier and cheaper to create in laboratories, versus caring for and cultivating fields of poppy plants. Additionally, since synthetic drugs have a much greater potency, manufacturers are able to create a product that is equal, if not greater than heroin alone.
Moreover, there are two common scenarios that are happening among users in our country. Number one, they are often unaware that their heroin, cocaine, or other drugs are contaminated with Fentanyl. This puts them at significant risk, because although their typical dose may be sufficient to achieve the high they are craving, even one miniscule of Fentanyl can be fatal.
Number two, many users know that their drugs have the potential of being contaminated, but they may be at the point where they do not care. Unfortunately, drug addiction has a way of taking hold of an individual and distorting one’s thinking and reasoning. Some users may actually seek out these substances, because they are looking to achieve a greater and more intense high. In the back of their minds, two things are happening. Either they believe overdose can never happen to them, or they simply don’t care. For some, death seems like the better option.
Yes, prescription opioids have certainly played their part in our addiction crisis, but now we have a much bigger threat on our hands.
Unfortunately, it is going to take time, and swift action among our political leaders to really stop the flow of synthetic drugs coming into our country. Although we make new strides every day in addressing this epidemic, illicitly made substances are still finding their way into our homes and families.
For now, awareness, prevention, and treatment are our only allies. Our children, spouses, loved ones, and friends that find themselves in the grips of addiction must be aware of just how dangerous these drugs are. If you love someone that has found themselves addicted, please reach out and get them help.
You may never think it could happen to you or your family, but the numbers speak for themselves. Don’t let your loved one become another statistic.
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