This has been on the horizon for a while now, but it’s official; according to the CDC, more overdoses in the United States are caused by the opioid fentanyl than by any other drug either legal or illegal.
The CDC’s subsidiary, the National Center for Health Statistics, says fentanyl overdoses have gone up by 113% every year from 2013 to 2016. Fentanyl was involved in more than 29% of deaths from overdose in 2016, up by 4% over the previous five years. In 2011, fentanyl was involved in just 13% of all overdoses.
These increases have happened at the same time as overdose and death rates of other drugs have been rising. In 2011, more than 40,000 people died from a drug overdose. By 2016, that number had risen to over 63,000 deaths. The picture that should be forming in your mind is one where every drug from which a person can overdose is driving a race car to Death Town- and fentanyl is leading them all by three car lengths.
In 2016 there was a daily average of 175 deaths from overdose each and every day. Of those deaths, fentanyl was the drug of choice in half. In other words, fentanyl killed more than 80 Americans each day in 2016.
The close runners up behind fentanyl in the race to Death Town are heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine- in that order. Heroin accounts for 25% of all 2016 overdose deaths. As the drug once feared for its intense addictiveness and high capacity to kill- heroine now looks like a titmouse next to the tiger that is fentanyl.
“Fentanyl is so deadly, in the geographic regions where it’s been flooding in, deaths soared like we’ve never seen before,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, the co-founder of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing to CNN in a recent interview.
Fentanyl, like heroin, is illegal. These drugs kill more than legal opioids like hydrocodone and oxycodone. But legal painkillers are also prescribed far more often than they should be, they are highly addictive- and they are exorbitantly expensive. When patients with chronic pain can no longer afford their legal prescriptions- they turn to illegal drugs.
In a recent study, it was found that teenagers are being prescribed pharmaceutical painkillers after having their wisdom teeth removed. Due to the fact that teens believe these legal drugs are safe, they are experimenting with them. Often times there are more pills than the teen dental patient needs to make it through the painful part of the recovery process. What’s more, many patients are being given powerful medical opioids, even when an over the counter pain killer is all they need.
The study found that roughly 16% of teens who are given these drugs use them recreationally, share them with their friends, and develop a habit of taking the drugs for fun. They also found that of the 50% of teens who have their hindmost molars removed, more than half are prescribed pharmaceutical painkillers without any screening process and without first using less powerful drugs like Tylenol PM.
Among the most common side effects of medical grade pain medication is chronic pain. This is because the body is constantly degrading- particularly in the joints- and healing. The body produces and dispenses natural pain inhibitors that make everyday life bearable. The use of pharmaceutical drugs tells the body that it does not need to manufacture its own painkillers. This, of course, describes the famously intense and unbearable withdrawals that are associated with heroin addiction- a condition known on the street as being ‘junk sick.’ With the synthetic alternatives- withdrawals are often even worse.
Once the ability of the system to generate and circulate organic painkillers atrophies, the patient becomes wracked with chronic pain. It is at that point when they become dependent on artificial painkillers.
Artificial opiates, like hydrocodone and oxycodone, are much harder on the liver and kidneys than even heroin. Heroine, when it is not cut with other dangerous substances, is much closer to its natural origin- the poppy plant. Without endorsing heroine, it must be admitted that it is easier for the body to process the drug than it is to pass hydrocodone, oxycodone, and fentanyl through the liver and kidneys.
What’s been lost in recent years is the willingness of people to simply endure pain. We have an increasing tendency to forget that pain is a natural part of life. As long as we think of pain as aberrant, we will resort to unhealthy and dangerous methods of avoiding it.