How Could Fentanyl Get Worse?
Every year, the death toll from the opiate crisis continues to rise, yet it seems it has become unimportant to the public. For years the increasing death toll was treated as important news, as it should be. However, in recent years, the death toll has been viewed as the status quo. In the last reported year, 2021, the death toll raised to six digits for the first time, with reported deaths reaching 106,699. One crucial question is why overdose deaths have increased despite efforts of the government and other entities to slow the deaths.
Several things are driving the increase in overdose deaths, and understanding these can provide insight that may help protect those your loved ones.
One of the most significant driving factors is the widespread use of fentanyl. Most people know what fentanyl is; however, they probably don’t realize how common it is in more than one drug supply. What this means is that fentanyl, which has traditionally been viewed as used to spike heroin and opiates, is now found in several types of drugs being sold as something else. In personal experience, I have seen at least three patients come in over the last several months who believed they had a problem with Xanax. They were buying from drug dealers. All three of them, when drug tested, had no trace of benzodiazepines in their system. The only drug they tested positive for was fentanyl. When we told them this was the case, they were in disbelief as they had thought they had been using Xanax.
A DEA report further legitimizes this claim stating 6 out of 10 counterfeit pills contain a lethal amount of fentanyl. There are several different types of counterfeit pills. Xanax, Percocet, and amphetamines are some of the most common. Now if you didn’t notice, these three types represent the three most common drugs of abuse. Benzodiazepines, painkillers, and stimulants. This is significant because it means you could end up dying of a fentanyl overdose when opiates are not your drug of choice. If you have never been a drug user, this may not register how bizarre this is. Stimulants and painkillers are nearly opposites as one speeds you up, and the other slows you down. Part of the reason for the spike in overdose deaths is, in the past, these opiate overdose deaths were confined to affecting opiate addicts. This is no longer the case.
Counterfeit pills are not the only way in which fentanyl is ending up in the hands of unsuspecting victims. Powdered cocaine has also begun to contain fentanyl with alarming regularity. Another alarming report in 2018 from the DEA revealed this disturbing fact. The DEA Bulletin stated that “Over the past four years, cocaine-related fatalities more than doubled.”
“Over the past four years, cocaine-related fatalities
more than doubled.”
The report goes on to explain that the involvement of fentanyl in these cases is common. The real danger of fentanyl is why the death toll has continued to rise despite the efforts of different organizations. While most opiate addicts would know to use Narcan, a life-saving drug that blocks opiate receptors and will pull someone out of an overdose, a person wouldn’t think to use Narcan on someone abusing cocaine or amphetamines (which just so happens to be laced with Fentanyl), making the likely hood of a fatal overdose more common.
It should be clear now why overdose deaths have continued to rise. And unfortunately, the future is not looking bright regarding the rate of overdose deaths.
Not only are there continued overdone deaths, but an unsettling trend has begun to emerge in specific cities across the country. Xylazine, a sedative used in horses and not approved for humans, has already started to pop up in opiate drug supplies.
This drug is hazardous for a couple of reasons. On the one hand, the drug increases the likelihood of a fatal overdose due to how long the sedative lasts and the fact it is entirely immune to the use of Narcan because it is not an opiate. The second reason is repetitive intravenous use of xylazine can cause severe, necrotic skin ulcerations—a condition where the tissue around the injection site begins to die and rot to cause severe infections.
For all these reasons, the drug overdose epidemic is far from over, and treating it as the status quo will not help. The first step you can take to make a difference is to know the signs of drug use. There are many guides on how to spot the signs of drug use and addiction. If you know someone who is struggling, early intervention is critical. Especially in today’s climate, waiting to do something can be fatal for the drug user. For more information on the signs of drug use, please visit our page that details these signs.