In 2016, the CDC revealed that approximately 62.5K Americans died from drug overdoses – a historical 19% leap from 2015.
Overdoses are now officially the leading cause of death for those 50 and under, and it is largely believed that increased opioid dependence is largely to blame.
As we previously discussed, over 2 million Americans are estimated to be dependent on opioids, and an additional 95 million used prescription painkillers in the past year – more than those who have used Tobacco.
The fact of the matter is, the United States is in the midst of an opioid crisis, with both law enforcement and public health data indicating higher availability of a particular strain of opioid – Fentanyl – a highly potent opioid commonly used in America for the treatment of chronic pain, post-surgery recovery and cancer treatment.
Fentanyl isn’t new, but over the past few years, it has been popping up in drug seizures across the country.
In the past, fentanyl-associated overdoses were largely caused by drug traffickers mixing it into or selling the drug as heroin or other counterfeit prescription opioids – a drug which Fentanyl is often compared to in terms of effect.
In 2016, however, Fentanyl was not only mixed into the heroin supply, it also took on new shapes in order to be desirable for a different subset of opioid users.
Now, often used to cut cocaine and other recreational drugs, the risk of fentanyl overdose continues to grow as opiate-naive users are coming into contact with the highly potent drug in unexpected ways.
Fentanyl and Carfentanil are Extremely Powerful Drugs
A new even more dangerous addition to the opioid market has arrived in the form of Carfentanil – an elephant tranquilizer that is potentially 5,000x stronger than heroin.
It is important to note here, that while recent media coverage claims fentanyl is “50x stronger than heroin” or “100x stronger than morphine” – even dubbing it the “instant killer” – this simply means that it is active at lower doses.
Words are incredibly important here – while chemists and pharmacologists can weigh a drug’s potency by the amount it takes to produce effects, this can be a distraction from issues of addiction and why people are quickly dying from use.
The fact of the matter is that any opioid taken at a larger than prescribed amount can have fatal effects. And as these begin to be mixed together and sold under false pretenses, the risk of abuse/addiction and overdose grow higher and higher.
How Did We Get Here With Opioid Addiction?
Recently, a respected doctor and drug specialist at Boston University Medical Center, came forward to admit that a letter he wrote to the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine in 1980, may have inherently sparked the opioid addiction crisis we now face.
The letter, now cited over 600 times internationally by pharmaceutical companies, media and researchers, claims that though doctors at the time were wary of opioids, fearing patient addiction, there was nothing to be worried about.
The letter cited a study of nearly 40,000 patients given powerful pain drugs at a Boston hospital, which subsequently resulted in only 4 documented cases of addiction.
At this, doctors across North America and abroad whipped out their prescription pads, and the rise of Vicodin, OxyContin and other powerful opiates began.
What’s Next for the Opioid Crisis?
In March, 2017, The White House released an executive order establishing the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis – a mandate which promises to consider limiting federal funding of pharmaceutical manufacturers who deal in opiates, as well as assess availability of, and increase funding to drug crisis and rehabilitation services.
But this is only step one. With the widespread nature of this crisis, there is an onus put on every individual to be cognizant of the threats of these drugs.
“There has never been a more dangerous time to source drugs on the streets,” claims Dr. David Juurlink, head of clinical pharmacology and toxicology at Sunnybrook Health Services (and one of the members of the committee enlisted to qualify the effects of the previously mentioned NEJM article).
Whether on the street, or over the counter, an increased awareness of dosage and signs of addiction has never been more important.
A Refresher on the Symptoms of Drug Abuse
Opioid drugs affect many different areas in one’s nervous system and brain. Opioids have the propensity to influence one’s limbic system, brainstem, and spinal cord.
Though all drugs affect each individual uniquely, there are several widespread symptoms that can be seen in individuals who abuse opioids.
Some of the symptoms of opioid abuse can include any combination of the following:
- Social Isolation
- Mood Swings
- Financial difficulties
Not every individual will exhibit all of the above symptoms. They are simply examples of reported symptoms that have been previously displayed by opioid abusers.
Further Resources for Help With Opioids
If an individual is even suspected of abusing opioids, it is imperative to seek out proper help. As indicated above, opioid overdose is unfortunately becoming increasingly prevalent in our society, and the only way to stop it is to get help before it is too late.
There are a wide variety of options for an individual in need of help and/or guidance with opioid abuse.
Contacting a medical doctor might be an important first step, as they will be able to personally direct the individual in need.
If the opioid use has become unmanageable, a better option would be to contact a reputable drug rehabilitation center that has trained addiction professionals on staff to offer immediate help before it’s too late.