The rise in opiate-related overdoses.
There are a number of different mind-altering substances that are addictive and potentially deadly. Even alcohol — a substance that’s legally available to individuals who are of age — is extremely dangerous with many considering it one of the most highly addictive substances of all. However, one of the most problematic types of drugs is the opiate, which has been growing in terms of abuse rates since the 1990s.
Since then, millions upon millions of people have lost their lives due to opiate addiction, which is why curbing the rate of opiate abuse in the U.S. has become a top priority among law enforcement and public officials. Even those in the medical field are developing ways of combating this dangerous drug with the process of opiate detox and addiction recovery treatment. There is also an increasing number of concerned citizens taking the initiative and being proactive about opiate addiction, making this a top priority nationwide.
Since opiates continue to be a significant threat, let’s take a moment to consider what statistics are showing us about the rise in opiate-related overdose deaths and how it’s affecting us on a societal level.
A look at the numbers
Ever since Purdue Pharma released OxyContin in 1996, abuse of prescription painkillers has skyrocketed. These powerful drugs hijack the brain, rendering individuals helpless to the urge to continue abusing these drugs. According to recent estimates, more than 50,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2016, which is higher than any years before, and many of those overdoses are from opiates and opioids. In the course of just a single year, heroin deaths rose by 23 percent, reaching a total of 12,989; to put that into perspective, that figure dwarfs even the number of gun homicides that occur annually.
Meanwhile, deaths from synthetic opioids — which includes fentanyl — increased by 73 percent to 9,580. While opiates showed the smallest level of increase, they happened to account for the most overdose deaths of all at 17,536. In other words, opiate painkillers account for as much as 35 percent of all overdose deaths that occur in the U.S.
A deadly pattern
If you take a step back to look at how opiate overdose death rates have changed over time, you’ll see a continuous increase; however, if you look more closely, you’d notice that opiate overdose deaths tend to happen in bursts. In other words, there are times when there are an exceptionally high number of overdose deaths occurring in a very short period of time. It’s a pattern that has been observed repeatedly over the past several years, leading many to wonder what it is, exactly, that’s causing these bursts of opiate overdose deaths. According to officials, it seems that heroin use is largely to blame for this deadly pattern.
Although heroin is deadly enough on its own, it’s quite common for the individuals who sell heroin on the street to mix other substances into heroin. Typically, this occurs when the people selling the heroin are also users; their own use limits the return on their investment, so they have to mix other substances into the heroin to replace what they used.
In some cases, these adulterants can be things like baking powder and other non-drug items, but more and more of these individuals are mixing fentanyl into the heroin. Not only does mixing fentanyl into the heroin increase the amount of heroin that’s available to sell, it also increases the strength of the heroin. Fentanyl is widely considered to be the most powerful opioid substance on the market, even more powerful than heroin.
Unfortunately, the individuals who are buying the fentanyl-laced heroin aren’t expecting it to be so much more powerful than the product they’re used to buying, causing them to overdose.
Across the U.S., there have been a number of incidents related to fentanyl-laced heroin. In areas of Ohio and New Jersey, there have been times when dozens of people would died from overdosing in a single twenty-four-hour period. These bursts of deaths have been occurring throughout the country, much to the concern of officials and citizens alike.
Time for a change
If there’s one thing that the increasing frequency of opiate overdose deaths is doing, it’s that it’s forcing us to become better prepared to deal with these problems.
For instance, there have been a number of initiatives to ensure that emergency first-responders and even law enforcement officers have continuous access to Narcan kits; as you may know, Narcan is the drug that can reverse an opioid overdose that’s in process. Meanwhile, a number of law enforcement officials are finding themselves playing the role of addictions counselors as there are more and more programs wherein law enforcement officers are helping individuals in need find addiction treatment.
The important thing to remember is that the only way to overcome the rising overdose deaths caused by opioids is to be more proactive. With more community involvement and preparation, we can find ways of alleviating the chokehold that opiates have had on the U.S.
Luke Pool is a grateful member of the Recovery community. He has found his purpose in life by helping those who suffer from the diseases of addiction. He uses blogging and social media to raise awareness about this epidemic, affecting every part of this country. Now working for Stodzy internet marketing, he is able to pursue his passion by informing as many people as possible about addiction. Originally from Austin, Texas he now lives in South Florida.