An opioid epidemic has recently swept across the U.S., with a 200% increase since 2000 in the rate of deaths caused by opioid overdose, according to the CDC. Many of these deaths have been caused by prescription painkillers and heroin, but now another type of drug has entered the scene.
Fentanyl, a synthetic opiate usually prescribed as a strong painkiller to treat chronic or postoperative pain, has been causing alarming rates of fatalities across the nation. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, fentanyl is 25-50 times more powerful than heroin, and 50-100 times more powerful than morphine.
Fentanyl is created in illegal laboratories and cut with heroin, often without the knowledge of the buyer, and because of its incredible potency, it only takes a tiny amount of fentanyl to cause a lethal overdose. Whereas other opioids are measured in milligrams, fentanyl is measured in micrograms. A milligram of fentanyl is miniscule—only about the size of a pinhead—and a microgram is one thousand times smaller, meaning that the margin of error for overdosing is almost non-existent.
The cause of death in a fentanyl overdose is respiratory arrest; the drug depresses the respiratory system to the point that the user stops breathing, often almost instantaneously. There is a way to treat fentanyl overdose—the opiate antagonist Naloxone, which blocks fentanyl from binding to the opiate receptors—but because fentanyl is so fast-acting, there’s often no chance to administer Naloxone. Many people who die from fentanyl overdose are found with needles still in their arms.
The spikes in fentanyl-related deaths have been seen most clearly in New England; according to the New York Times, Massachusetts had a 53% increase in fentanyl fatalities over two years, while Vermont had a 142% increase and Maine had a shocking 867% increase.
But fentanyl-related deaths aren’t limited to New England; Northern California already had 48 overdoses and 12 deaths since March of this year, and at least nine deaths in Florida have been linked to fentanyl as well. In Florida, the drug was produced to look like Xanax pills—with the same shape, color, size, and label—and people were unaware that they were buying fentanyl, resulting in fatal overdoses.
Fentanyl is increasing in popularity in part because it’s cheaper and easier to make than heroin, and because cartels and dealers can transport fewer loads of the drug due to its high potency. Drug abusers are adopting fentanyl because it offers a more powerful, immediate high and, in some areas, is more prevalent than heroin, making it easier to purchase.
Fentanyl addiction is only the latest trend in the fight against lethal drugs in this country. Unfortunately, drug cartels and manufacturers will always develop new drugs and new ways to take drugs, but there is hope for every individual who wants to escape addiction.
Addiction is a serious condition that requires targeted treatment in an addiction recovery center. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, please contact our compassionate intake coordinators to find a luxury drug rehab program that will lead you to sobriety and recovery.