Overdose deaths continue to skyrocket as the opioid epidemic rages on, and recently, U.S. News and World Report reported that Fentanyl is one of the leading causes of overdose fatalities. In 2016, more than 30 percent of all overdose deaths were caused by Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. This is compared to only 8 percent in 2010, a significant increase in the fentanyl overdose death rates.
The data was compiled by a recent study completed by a team of researchers at the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This data did not come as a surprise to the researchers. The data confirm that fentanyl-type drugs were entering in greater and greater quantities, making these illicit drugs readily available for anyone at risk of using or abusing these substances.
Overdose Deaths in 2016: By the Numbers
- 19,400 people in the United States died from Fentanyl overdose.
- 17,000 people in the United States died from prescription pain medication overdose.
- 15,000 people in the United States died from heroin overdose.
It’s important to note that synthetic opioids, like Fentanyl, are playing a role in many heroin and cocaine overdoses. Given the fact that synthetic opioids are cheaper and easier to come by, many drug traffickers are contaminating their drug supply with these synthetic products. It helps their own supply go further and allows them to earn a higher profit. The cost, of course, is the lives of the people who use these drugs. In 2016, synthetic opioids played a role in 37 percent of all heroin overdose deaths. This is up from just more than 1 percent in 2010. During the same year, synthetic opioids were involved in about 40% of all cocaine overdose deaths. This is a rise from 4 percent in 2010.
Why is Fentanyl Overdose Death Rates on the Rise?
Potency is one of the main reasons that Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids carry a higher risk of overdose and death. Linda Richter is the director of policy and research analysis at the National Center on Addiction and Drug Abuse. She spoke with U.S. News and World Report about these powerful drugs:
“These drugs are about 50 times more potent than heroin and up to 100 times more potent than morphine,” Richter said in the article. “It only takes a tiny amount of the drug to cause a deadly reaction.”
In addition to being incredibly potent and dangerous, Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are also readily available for those who are most at-risk of using illicit drugs. People who have become addicted to prescription medication may look to more powerful alternatives that cost less money. These often include heroin or even Fentanyl. In addition, drug users often unknowingly consume Fentanyl because this drug can easily be cut into other illicit substances, like cocaine and heroin.
Making matters worse, counterfeit pills are infiltrating the market at an alarming rate. Famously, the musical performance artist Prince unknowingly took Fentanyl because it was mistaken for a prescribed Vicodin pill. Prince may be the most notorious Fentanyl overdose death, but there are thousands of more tragic stories eerily similar to his.
Given the prevalent role that Fentanyl plays in these overdose deaths, it’s clear to see that the supposed solutions to the opioid epidemic are not focusing on the right priorities.
How Can We Reduce the Number of Fentanyl Overdose Deaths?
In the article, Richter agreed that the recent efforts to curb the opioid epidemic need to be broadened. She continued that more awareness has to be raised with the general public.
“We need a comprehensive approach to substance use and addiction in this country that finally acknowledges that chasing the latest drug trend is a losing battle,” Richter told U.S. News and World Report.
First and foremost, the public needs to understand and recognize that drug addiction is a treatable disease. It is not a battle that must be managed but can never be won. There are medical treatments available to minimize the symptoms of this illness. These medications allow the patient to survive the overwhelming and painful detoxification process and give them an opportunity to start a fresh, healthy life again.
In addition to medication, patients also need to work closely with a support group and mental health care providers. These counselors can help those who are at-risk of using prescription drugs, heroin and synthetic opioids like Fentanyl understand what they need to do in order to move forward with their lives.
“We need to eliminate the stigma around this very preventable and treatable disease so that those who need help get the care they deserve without being shunned as criminals or sacrificing their human dignity,” Richter told U.S. News and World Report.
Fentanyl overdose death rates may be on the rise, but we do not have to settle for this reality. We have to let those who are suffering from addiction know that there are treatment options available. We need to let them know that they can overcome their addiction.