It’s impossible to talk about drug overdose deaths nowadays without fentanyl being mentioned. One of the most powerful opioids in existence (it’s easily 100 times more potent than morphine), fentanyl is the driving force behind the opioid epidemic currently sweeping through the nation. This isn’t the first time that opioids have wreaked havoc on Americans, but what makes this wave so particularly worrisome is that fentanyl use is often unintentional.
Fentanyl-Laced Drugs Are Discovered
Alarm bells were first raised when the surge of counterfeit prescription drugs laced with fentanyl claimed a high-profile victim in 2016, though the crisis actually had its start several years earlier in 2014. Since then, these impure or tampered with drugs have continued to make headline after headline after headline as they continue turning up in toxicology reports conducted in lieu of an accidental overdose.
According to Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fentanyl is believed to have infiltrated roughly 70% of the illicit drug supply. It is far from coincidence that the number of overdose deaths has nearly doubled from 2015 to 2021, causing a record number of overdose deaths in the past years. Fentanyl accounted for more than half of all overdose deaths in 2019.
Where Is It Coming From?
The primary source of fentanyl in America is China, at a purity of 90% or higher. The Chinese government has begun cracking down and India is emerging as a prominent new origin source. Once created, the fentanyl is often transferred to Mexico where it is then processed further into powders and pills—including those fentanyl-laced drugs—and is then transported into the United States. The various forms of fentanyl that are smuggled into the country typically have a concentration of less than 10%.
Fentanyl Gets Fatal Fast
Unfortunately for unsuspecting drug users, the results can quickly be deadly. The DEA found that 26% of tested substances contained a lethal dose of fentanyl, about two milligrams. Imagine lightly dipping your little finger in a bowl of table salt. If those few grains that remain were fentanyl, that could be enough to kill you.
In addition to fentanyl itself being a dangerous compound that is frightfully easy to overdose on, fentanyl can also interfere with the efficacy of the life-saving medications that could potentially reverse those overdoses. A study found that opioid overdoses of drugs contaminated with fentanyl require greater doses of naloxone to take effect.
Drug Contamination Is Very Common
Even in instances where illicit drugs aren’t intentionally laced with fentanyl, contamination is commonplace. Bryce Pardo, a drug policy researcher at the RAND Corporation believes that many dealers are accidentally tainting their drug supply. Their illicit wares are processed in uncontrolled conditions in clandestine labs. It’s highly likely that a dealer working with one substance simply left remnants of one drug on the counter or surface, which then gets mixed in with the next substance they work with.
Another reason why fentanyl-laced drugs are so common? It’s cheap to make and buy. Drug dealers will often use fentanyl as a cheap way to punch up the effects of a weak or impure drug. In the most nefarious of instances, it’s done intentionally to increase the addiction potential. Fentanyl can be found in all sorts of substances, such as marijuana, ecstasy, and even other opioids such as heroin.
If you know a recreational drug user, you know someone who faces a high risk of accidental overdose from a dangerous opioid. Medical detox can be a lifesaving treatment that puts them on the path to recovery. Learn more about detox and other addiction treatment services offered at Amethyst Recovery Center today.