The latest data from the CDC indicates that more than 64,000 people died of drug overdoses during 2016. Deaths involving the powerful drug fentanyl, and other synthetic opioids, more than doubled over the previous year and contributed to 20,145 deaths.
A dose containing as little as 3 milligrams of fentanyl can kill. The deadly nature and prevalence of fentanyl-laced heroin make this opioid one of the most serious drug threats of our time.
The Slippery Slope of Drug Addiction
In 2016, the opioid epidemic killed more people than those killed during the entirety of the Vietnam War. The crisis began in the 1990s when doctors began prescribing opioids in increasing volumes for pain management. The health care industry enabled drug dependency for years, inadvertently creating a slippery slope toward illicit drug use.
While many people understand the origin story of the opioid epidemic, they rarely see the factors that continue to fuel the epidemic more than two decades later. Prescription drug use of codeine, fentanyl, hydrocodone, oxycodone and others is socially acceptable in many circles. Singers reference using, young people give in to peer pressure, and many doctors will prescribe medications up to the current legal limits.
When the prescription drugs dry up, heroin is cheap and far too easy to access. For less than the price of a pack of cigarettes, individuals can purchase heroin in most areas of any state. Powerful and unregulated, heroin purity and dosing varies widely. Heroin laced with fentanyl and fentanyl analogues are now killing addicted individuals in record numbers.
While more than 20,000 people died from fentanyl-related overdoses in 2016, recent research from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health suggests heroin dependence has more than tripled over the last decade. Millions of people may be at risk for a heroin and/or fentanyl-related overdose, especially men without much income or education. Without intervention, the risks of illicit drug use often turn into realities.
The Scope of the Fentanyl and Heroin Problem in Recent Years
The Sept. 1, 2017 edition of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report indicates a third wave of the opioid epidemic emerged in 2013. Researchers attribute a large percentage of the increase in deaths over the last four years to fentanyl-laced drugs including heroin.
The use of fentanyl and fentanyl-like substances now contribute to more deaths than the use of heroin, prescription opioids, cocaine or methamphetamine alone. In some areas such as Massachusetts, a major center in the opioid crisis, the state Department of Public Health has recorded a decrease in total opioid-related deaths in 2017, yet it’s attributing an ever-increasing number of deaths to fentanyl.
In the Midwest in states such as Ohio, drug overdoses continue to rise. The state attributed more than 4,000 overdose deaths in 2016 to fentanyl and fentanyl-like substances.
Overdose Deaths on the Rise in Several States; Only Minor Progress in Others
Provisional overdose counts according to the CDC from January 2016 to January 2017 indicate:
- A 71% increase in drug overdose deaths in Delaware
- A 67% increase in drug overdose deaths in Maryland
- A 55% increase in drug overdose deaths in Florida
- A 50% increase in drug overdose deaths in New York City
While the increases often represent major jumps in death rates, the few decreases in the country only represent a mild decline. Overdose counts show:
- An 8% decrease in drug overdose deaths in Nebraska
- A 3% decrease in drug overdose deaths in Washington
- A 3% decrease in drug overdose deaths in Wyoming
The total number of deaths is currently increasing at an unsustainable rate. If the trends of the past four years continue into the future, hundreds of thousands more will die before they receive the treatment needed to overcome a serious addiction.
The data indicates that since 2013, the US has faced more than a third wave of the opioid epidemic. Our country is facing a crisis within a crisis, because fentanyl is far more deadly than any other illicit drug sold today.
Information from the DEA shows law enforcement agencies secured a minimum of 239 kilograms of illegally manufactured fentanyl from 2013 to 2015. No one can say how many more kilograms slipped through the cracks during that time. Two-hundred and thirty-nine kilograms is enough fentanyl to kill tens of millions of people.
The Extreme Dangers of Fentanyl
A mere sprinkle of pure fentanyl can kill. The drug is 50 to 100 times more powerful than the active ingredient in heroin, and illegal drug manufacturers and dealers rarely disclose its presence in heroin. Drug traffickers use the powerful synthetic opioid to maximize profits, but one error can lead to overdose.
Professionals who respond to overdose calls and bust drug trafficking circles are at risk, too. Fentanyl can kill via inhalation or contact with skin. Those who come into contact with fentanyl and fentanyl-like substances such as carfentanil must seek medical intervention quickly to reduce the risk of overdose death.
The effects of fentanyl kick in much faster than the effects of other opioids, and overdose victims may need more than one dose of naloxone to overcome the effects. Anyone who deals, uses or confiscates illegally manufactured fentanyl faces the risks of overdosing.
A Widespread Problem
Celebrities including the singer Prince and Paul Gray, bassist for the band Slipknot, have died from fentanyl-related overdoses in the last few years. Others, including actors Philip Seymour Hoffman and Cory Monteith, have died from heroin-related overdoses in recent years. These examples underscore the fact that no one is immune from the dangers of heroin and fentanyl.
The problems with heroin and fentanyl extend far beyond celebrity circles. Today, high schoolers, young adults, professionals, parents and others are dying from opioid-related overdoses, many involving fentanyl-laced heroin. In America, drugs cause more accidental deaths than car accidents and shootings; and, the crisis is only spreading.
The UK also noticed a considerable increase in fentanyl-related deaths starting in 2016. More than 60 people have died in the UK from fentanyl-laced drugs since late 2016. In Canada, British Columbia coroners’ reports cited the powerful opioid in roughly 368 overdose deaths over a four-month period in 2017, and Alberta recorded 176 deaths in a five-month period.
Alcohol and drug rehab facilities can successfully curb the rate of death, but only if they reach addicted persons in time. Those addicted to opioids need ongoing treatment and support to overcome dependency and reduce their risk of encountering fentanyl-laced substances.
How to Stage an Intervention for Drug Addiction
The most recent estimates show only 10 percent of individuals with substance use disorders receive the specialized help they need. Addicted individuals often need the support of sober family members, friends and professional treatment facilities to overcome opioid addictions of all kinds. Intervention help for families is certainly out there, and Addiction Treatment Services specializes in helping families find the right treatment.
Don’t wait to help a loved one make the personal decision to find treatment. Opioids represent a real and dangerous risk that users may not recognize before it’s too late. Stage an intervention with the help of professionals who know and understand opioid addiction.
Addiction Treatment Services believes everyone deserves an opportunity to overcome addiction. We’re here to help connect you to professional interventionists and assist you in your search for an effective addiction treatment program that works with your insurance.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in May 2014, but was updated in October 2017 to reflect more recent data and developments involving fentanyl, heroin and opioids.