The United States has witnessed a surge in the number of opioid overdose deaths in recent years, particularly due to the increase in the distribution of illegally made non-pharmaceutical synthetic opioids like fentanyl and tramadol. In fact, many heard of fentanyl for the first time only after the death of the pop star Prince in 2016.
This highly potent drug is 100 times stronger than morphine. In fact, just a few grains of this white powder is enough to kill an adult. Many epidemiologists associate the increase in overdose deaths to heroin or cocaine mixed with fentanyl that results in a high, increase in illegally made fentanyl and lack of awareness among buyers about heroin being adulterated with fentanyl.
The synthetic opioid like fentanyl is usually administered to the last stage cancer patients to cope with severe pain but it can be lethal when taken in more than the prescribed amount. Being highly addictive in nature, it has a high potential for abuse and can prove to be life-threatening.
According to the findings of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there has been an increase of 79 percent in synthetic opioid-related deaths largely due to fentanyl while the drug products obtained by the law enforcement agencies, i.e., fentanyl submissions, increased by 426 percent in 2013-2014. Similarly, there were over 22,000 deaths or 62 deaths per day due to synthetic opioids, excluding methadone, which is a stark increase from 19,000 synthetic opioid-related deaths in 2014. However, these statistics are not accurate because:
Rise of fentanyl
According Helpful hints to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the first reports of fentanyl abuse dates back to the mid-1970s. The next surge of fentanyl-related overdose deaths was observed between 2005 and 2007 that caused over 1,000 deaths. Fortunately, the DEA traced the origin of illegally made fentanyl to a single site in Mexico and shut it down, thereby eliminating the danger.
However, the U.S. now faces a new problem due to the appearance of decentralized pill mills and fentanyl laboratories in many pockets of the country. This has further compounded the severity of the problem. Moreover, it is a lot more tedious for the law enforcement agencies to address the problem on time. This only adds to the burden of illegal fentanyl making inroads in the U.S. territory mainly due to smuggling by the Mexican cartels, Chinese laboratories and online sellers.
Moreover, anti-overdose drugs such as naloxone, are less effective in saving the lives of the fentanyl overdose victims due to the rise of its analogs, such as sufentanil, carfentanil, etc., that are more potent than fentanyl. The fact that carfentanil is used for tranquilizing elephants hints at the lethality of such substances. A person who has overdosed on fentanyl would require twice as much naloxone than a heroin overdose victim, to be revived.
Between 2014 and 2015, it came to light that 15 states and Washington, D.C. saw an increase of 50 percent or more in opioid-related deaths with a high prevalence of fentanyl. Moreover, the Eastern U.S. saw a steep rise in deaths involving synthetic opioids as compared to the Western U.S. This is largely attributable to the fact that Eastern U.S. mostly trades in white heroin and the Western U.S. mainly in darker heroin. And, white powder heroin is easier to cut with fentanyl than the latter.
Illicit drugs lead to torment and death
Illegally made analogs of fentanyl, such as sufentanil, carfentanil, etc., are wreaking havoc in the U.S. It's not just opioid epidemic anymore as many different substances are contributing to overdose deaths in the U.S. The long-term consequences of drug abuse are usually detrimental to one's health and aggravate further if left unaddressed. Therefore, it is advisable to seek early intervention to minimize the negative impact of drug abuse.