I had major surgery recently and the recovery was difficult, to say the least. Like most people who undergo any type of surgery these days, I was prescribed prescription painkillers to ease the pain that I would otherwise be unable to manage with over-the-counter meds like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. I followed proper dosage instructions religiously and responsibly, but towards the end of my recovery, I felt like I needed more than one dose to ease the pain.
This response is typical of opioid use — a double or triple dose is necessary to provide the same effect over time — as our bodies gradually require more and more of the drug to garner the same relief. This increased dependence on opioids for relief is part of the reason addiction is so prevalent. Because opioid addicts eventually need higher doses of prescribed pain meds to deliver the quick high, the drug becomes more expensive and difficult to obtain. Addicts eventually seek a more potent and cheaper drug, and sometimes turn to heroin because it’s not regulated and can easily be found on the street.
But while authorities are cracking down on heroin production and distribution, something even more potent and cheaper is rising up in unprecedented numbers — the use of synthetic opioids, including a powerful and dangerous drug called fentanyl.
For this reason, the leading cause of drug overdoses in America is no longer linked solely to opioids and prescription painkillers; but rather, it is directly related to synthetic opioids, like fentanyl. Just how deadly serious has it become? Drug overdoses from fentanyl have increased by 540% in just over three years.
FIVE HUNDRED PERCENT.
What exactly are synthetic opioids, and why the giant uptick in their use and availability? To put it simply, they are cheaper and easier to make, and create a more potent “high.” Unlike heroin which requires growing opium poppy, then converting the poppy into morphine and then into heroin, fentanyl is entirely lab created. Translation: it’s cheap and quick to make.
But it’s not just fentanyl that is now readily available illicitly, it’s an entire class of very dangerous synthetic opioids — or what we call synthetic analogs. Despite their very technical and benign name, make no mistake about it — these drugs are scary business.
How these synthetic opioids are getting into America’s illegal drug distribution supply chain is another scary scenario. Fentanyl, which originated in China, is now being found on streets in the U.S. laced into heroin. On its way from China to America, it makes a stop in Latin America, where drug cartels lace it into their heroin to increase its potency to deliver a bigger kick per dose of their heroin. Fentanyl is said to be anywhere from 40 to 100 times more potent than morphine and several times more potent than heroin, so when it’s laced in heroin and the user is unaware, the chance of accidental overdoses increases immensely.
Law enforcement officials, child protective services, and local EMT and rescue services all across the country are facing unexpected tragedies due to the massive increase in these types of overdoses. Local resources and budgets are being stretched the max as the need for having more Narcon — an injectable medication that can reverse the effect of an overdose — keeps increasing. Two doses of the injectable form of Narcon cost over $4,000 — an expense local communities cannot swallow on a regular basis. Additionally, the need for quality foster care services is also on the rise in communities with heavy opioid and related drug use — as deaths from overdoses are leaving many of the community’s children orphaned.
Officials in these hard hit communities are desperately looking for different ways of dealing with their population’s drug problem. Larry Mulligan Jr, mayor of Middletown, Ohio — a community reeling with synthetic opioid misuse — states, “First responders are reaching a new level of frustration responding to multiple calls, for repeated victims, and they just don’t feel like they are making progress. We can’t just keep reviving people. We have to address solutions.”
Yes, solutions are exactly what this country needs. There are no quick fixes or easy solutions, but getting to the heart of what drug addicts are trying to numb and treating that might be a big first step in getting this country out of this lethal drug spiral. Because lives are stake here — lots of them.