Synthetic Opioids; New Drugs that Pack a Lethal Punch
“Synthetic opioids,” are the new kids on the block when it comes to popular (and lethal) drugs. For years, the nation has been plagued with opioid addiction problems. This mainly came about from heroin abuse and opioid prescription drug abuse. Now, however, we have a third opiate drug to contend with, synthetic opioids. Synthetic opioids killed twice as many people in 2016 as they did in the previous year. These drugs are hybrid creations, illegally spliced opioid painkillers mixed in with another drug, usually with heroin. These drugs are soaring in popularity, and the death toll is soaring in tandem.
What are Synthetic Opioids?
Synthetic opioid drugs are very dangerous because they combine the most potent of opioid analogs. This means that they are made of highly concentrated opium. Most synthetic opioids are a combination of heroin and an opioid painkiller, usually fentanyl. Fentanyl is one-hundred times more potent than morphine is, morphine being the generic opioid painkiller. Heroin is fifty times more potent than morphine is, so when heroin and fentanyl are combined, they pack a punch that is just as likely to kill an addict as it is to get them high.
Fentanyl is a legal, pharmaceutical drug, designed to manage high-severity pain in patients. However, when fentanyl was first made in 1959, it was FDA approved for only hospital use, and for only surgery patients, cancer patients, and the terminally ill. For about forty years, this ruling held strong. Somehow, shortly after the turn of the century, fentanyl became an allowed drug for outpatient prescribing, meaning that doctors could prescribe it to regular patients who complained of back pain, headaches, jaw pain, sore joints, etc. This was obviously a mistake.
Now, the Black Market has been flooded with IMF, which is an illicitly manufactured version of fentanyl. When this drug is sliced into heroin or other opiates to make a synthetic opiate drug, addicts are taking a substance that they have no clue to its relative potency. That is why so many people are dying on synthetic drugs. They did not know the drugs would be so potent.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overdose deaths caused by synthetic opioids more than doubled between 2015 and 2016. In 2016, overdose deaths from synthetic opioids specifically made up thirty percent of the total death toll from drugs that year. That means that more than twenty-thousand Americans died from synthetic opioids, just one kind of drug. More than sixty-four thousand lost their lives in 2016 when all drug deaths were combined.
How Synthetic Opioids Came About
According to the National Vital Statistics System, about two-thirds of the total drug overdose deaths for 2016 came about from opioid-based drugs. Of opioid-based drugs, synthetic opioids were the most lethal by far. Because synthetic opioids took off so much in just one year, the per capita death toll from opioid drugs, in general, increased from ten deaths for every one-hundred-thousand residents in 2015 to thirteen deaths for every one-hundred-thousand individuals in 2016. Some individual states even have death rates that far exceed the nationwide average. States like West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio lose thirty residents every year to opioid overdoses for every one-hundred-thousand residents in the state.
Rapidly rising death tolls such as the above make us all wonder how the problem could have possibly gotten this bad this quickly. And with synthetic opioids spearheading the death toll, how did synthetic opioids come about so quickly? Synthetic opioids are the result of black market drug dealers who realized they could make heroin more potent with a little bit of fentanyl and then sell less of it at a higher price. But drug dealers are not chemists, and the spliced hybrid opiate drugs were far too potent.
Our focus going forward must be on educating the populace about synthetic opioids and the risk factors associated with them. We need to get people to see the terror of opioid abuse and the fact that users never really know what they are getting when they take drugs. Only in preventing people from falling prey to opioid addiction and helping those who are already hooked will we be able to reverse this deadly trend.