Even though COVID-19 deaths have been prominently featured in the headlines since 2020, the pandemic has actually been less deadly for specific age groups than fentanyl-related fatalities. In 2021, there were 41,587 recorded deaths that involved fentanyl overdoses in individuals age 18 to 45. If you look at the same age range and the same time frame, but replace fentanyl overdoses with COVID-19 deaths, the number is just over half that. To make matters worse, the rate of fentanyl-related fatalities is already projected to grow in 2022.
Research is being done by health officials and experts to determine why this is happening, and what could possibly fix the issue. Even if proposed solutions just flattened the curve for death rates, that would still be a win. It seems likely that the pandemic has actually played a part in the problem, mainly because it shut down community support systems, as well as isolating people from their friends and family. Many people probably turned to drugs because they felt like there were no other options, or to deal with the pressure of living through a global pandemic. However, using illicit substances doesn’t typically result in such high rates of overdose fatalities, like what we’ve seen in the last couple of years; the question is, what makes this time different?
How fentanyl has shaped the opioid epidemic’s fourth wave
The previous three waves of the U.S. opioid epidemic had their own unique characteristics, but one thing they had in common was the way the overdoses happened – they tended to involve individual drugs, not two or more drugs at once. This current wave, on the other hand, doesn’t just involve combinations of drugs; fentanyl is the common factor linking many overdose deaths. Of the 100,000+ overdose deaths in 2021, the CDC estimates that more than 50% of them involved fentanyl.
What measures are being taken against the opioid epidemic?
The main problem right now is that we know about various solutions that have been proven to reduce opioid-related overdose deaths, but they’ve failed to garner the necessary support. Why? Because key politicians are more concerned about keeping voters happy than working towards funding for crucial programs.
For example, some programs provide free test strips that detect fentanyl, as well as clean needles. This has not only reduced overdose deaths, but it’s also reduced the transmission of various diseases that can be spread by sharing needles. Many people see this as “supporting drug use”, however, so politicians often shy away from overtly supporting legislation that would provide funding for these types of programs.
What to know about fentanyl
Why is fentanyl so common – and so deadly? Here’s a quick overview of the drug.
- It didn’t used to be known as an illicit drug; its original use was as a painkiller. Addiction became common because of how often it was prescribed, so now it’s kept as a last-resort painkiller for patients who need something stronger than morphine.
- Fentanyl is about 5,000% more powerful than heroin, and 10,000% more powerful than morphine.
- Fake prescription pills (which are commonly sold on social media platforms as well as on the streets) are often compounded using fentanyl, among other things.
- It’s possible for someone to fatally overdose on just 2 milligrams of fentanyl.
Why are more people using fentanyl?
In some cases, people use the drug because it’s cheap and easy to obtain. In many instances, though, drug users don’t even know they’re consuming fentanyl; they think they’re taking something else, when it’s actually been either contaminated or cut with fentanyl.
It seems like fentanyl first gained a major foothold in the U.S. as an illicit substance when supply lines for other drugs (such as cocaine) were cut or reduced a few years ago. Manufacturers turned to fentanyl because it was easy to make and much cheaper than other opioids; plus, users only needed a fraction of what they’d have to take of other drugs. Unfortunately, suppliers often don’t tell users that what they’re selling contains fentanyl, so people end up unknowingly using this extremely potent drug as if it’s something much less powerful. This is definitely where a lot of the overdose deaths are coming from; people are dying because they have no idea what they’re consuming.
Another manufacturer-related problem is that fentanyl in its powdered form can’t just be stirred in with other powders; this creates “hot spots”, a nickname for chunks of fentanyl that haven’t been thoroughly mixed in. It must be dissolved in a liquid agent first, then dried and ground into a powder for a second time. This is a time-consuming process, though, and manufacturers sometimes skip it in order to save money on production costs. Even if users know they’re taking something that contains fentanyl, a hot spot could negate even the most carefully calculated dose.
There are many ways to address addiction, whether it’s for yourself or for someone close to you. Here are a few ways you could get started:
- Amethyst Recovery Center – As an addiction recovery center, they provide more than just services for people who are personally addicted. There are also online resources, guides for anyone who’s trying to help a loved one recover from addiction. And a round-the-clock helpline.
- Opiate Addiction & Treatment Resource – This website has up-to-date information regarding dependence, addiction, and opioids. Plus helpful information for various treatment methods.
- Find Addiction Rehabs – Visit this site to read the stories of people who are in recovery from addiction. And to check out a list of treatment centers.
The current opioid epidemic is presenting us with challenges that we’ve never dealt with before. But with the right combination of local support networks and government funding. Maybe we can reduce opioid-related deaths in the coming years.