According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 70,237 people died from drug overdoses nationally in 2017. Forty percent involved fentanyl or similar synthetic opioids, up 45 percent over 2016 records. In Washington, the total deaths from overdose of the synthetic drug were 48 people for the entire year of 2017 but already at 81 people for the first six months, trending toward a 70 percent increase if the current rate continues.
The opioid addiction problem which begins typically with prescription drugs can escalate to heroin use when an addict no longer has access to the medically prescribed painkiller. The major problem that arises when this shift happens is a severe safety risk that increases with the unregulated market that exists in illicit distribution. One of the trends on the rise is users moving to fentanyl willingly without knowing that it is 50 times stronger than pure heroin, or heroin itself being mixed with fentanyl in an effort for distributors to maintain competitive. Fentanyl is vastly cheaper than heroin when mixed with heroin can be sold on the more potent effects that it brings beyond heroin’s regular effects on the same dosage.
Washington state Department of Health representative Kathy Lofy recently made a public statement on the safety of fentanyl, emphasizing the importance of people who use opioids and heroin that even a minuscule amount of fentanyl can kill them.
“You can’t smell it. You can’t tell which illicit drugs it’s in and which it isn’t in.”
51 people died from fentanyl overdoses in King County through the end of November, well above the 33 deaths for the entire year of 2017, according to Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, health officer at Public Health – Seattle & King County. While he approved of China’s promise to crackdown on export of fentanyl which is being partly blamed for the massive increase in its use, neither doctor suggest that this would be enough to help the dangerous situation arising around opioid addiction.
“There is a supply side and demand side to the issue. I think it is important that we work on both. We really have to work on decreasing the demand and getting more people with substance use disorder into treatment,” Lofy advised, referring to drug and rehab centers. Her hopes in making public this staggering rise of overdose deaths is to raise awareness over how dangerous the drug can be for people who are addicted to painkillers, specifically opioids considering the connection of users moving from drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone to more powerful forms like heroin. The Drug Enforcement Agency states that a dose as small as 0.25mg can be lethal no matter the tolerance or frequency of use of any form painkillers.