There is almost no conversation that takes place currently regarding America’s opioid epidemic that doesn’t mention fentanyl. Years ago, during the rise of the opioid crisis, the typical discussion involving opioids would center around the major scourge of the opioid epidemic- OxyContin. It might include other prescription narcotics drugs such as oxycodone, Percocet, or Hydrocodone. It would no doubt turn to illicit street drugs like heroin or morphine. However, over the last few years, fentanyl has dominated any discussion of the ongoing opioid crisis in America.
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but 50 to 100 times more potent.
Fentanyl is a prescription drug that typically is used to treat patients with severe pain after surgery, or in extreme cases of chronic pain. However, fentanyl is also made and used illegally, often overseas, and imported into the United States and used in illicit drug sales. Due to the potency of fentanyl, it was initially used to make illicit drugs like heroin stronger, since it was cheap and easy to acquire. Now, however, in recent years, individuals with addiction are either specifically seeking out fentanyl to use or using it unknowingly when purchasing counterfeit prescription pills off the street, as it is often used to mix and press fake pills like prescription opioids, Adderall, or benzodiazepines like Xanax. This last point is creating a new crisis within America’s addiction epidemic- a poisoning of Americans by fentanyl that is being used unknowingly.
In 2020, the CDC reported that the number of fatal overdoses in America rose to over 93,000 people.
More than 93,000 people lost their lives and their battles with addiction. And the main culprit, according to the report, was fentanyl. That overwhelming number does not include Americans that suffered a non-fatal overdose due to opioids and lived, often thanks to overdose reversal drugs like Narcan. While many leaders and government organizations want to promote that America’s opioid crisis is getting better, the numbers say otherwise. There has been a drastic increase in the numbers of Americans that have suffered an overdose or have lost their lives to an overdose in the last few years, and each time the major culprit is fentanyl.
A major issue that must be addressed is that many of these Americans that are overdosing or dying are doing so due to being poisoned. Yes, drug overdoses occur when individuals use drugs. In the past, someone using heroin may overdose because they used too much heroin or an extremely potent type of heroin. Others may overdose due to using too many prescription opioids like OxyContin or Percocet. These were overdoses- where the amount or potency of a drug that someone was using overwhelmed their body and caused complications that led to death. However, what is occurring now often is not the same situation.
Individuals using drugs are purchasing what they believe is one substance (heroin, prescription opioids, Adderall, or Xanax) and instead what they are getting is a different substance made to look like something else (counterfeit Xanax pills purchased off the street that are actually fentanyl pressed to look like a Xanax) or a substance cut with fentanyl (think of an individual purchasing heroin but that receives mostly fentanyl.) These poisonings are a major cause of why the opioid crisis is worsening and the numbers of both fatal and non-fatal overdoses are skyrocketing.
Using drugs, especially illicit drugs off the street, is always a dangerous proposition. Individuals that suffer from addiction and substance use disorder who purchase drugs off the street never truly know what substance they are purchasing, and that carries inherent risk. There is always a chance of overdose or complications. However, if it is truly understood that addiction is a disease, that individuals that use drugs are human beings that require compassion, and that addiction is a public health issue, then it also must be understood that individuals that are using drugs are currently in crisis of death from a poisoned drug supply.
Fentanyl has changed the game. It has increased the risk of those that use drugs. It has created a much more dangerous environment for individuals that are using drugs, and not just those that use opioids. Fentanyl has made its way into many substances sold illegally on the streets, and it is causing the deaths of thousands of Americans. There is much that needs to be done, from law enforcement efforts towards stopping the flow of fentanyl into the country, to regulation related to drugs and addiction, to education, to increased access to overdose reversal medications.
For individuals using drugs, there must be an increased awareness of the dangers of the current drug supply. It is poisoned and any use carries with it the danger of overdose or death, even more so then in years past. Therefore, it is also important to say that help is available for those suffering from addiction. Recovery is possible. Services like detox, treatment, therapy, harm reduction approaches, and community-based recovery organizations all offer avenues that are accessible for those caught in the grips of addiction, and at danger of losing their life to a poisoned drug supply.
If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or co-occurring disorders, please give us a call. Innovo Detox offers the latest in evidence-based medical, psychiatric, and clinical care for those in need of detox and medical stabilization in Pennsylvania and the surrounding Mid-Atlantic area. If we aren’t the best fit for you or a loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a detox, rehab, treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at (717) 619-3260 or email our team at [email protected]. For more information on our company or services, please visit our website at www.innovodetox.com.