A new report from Rand Corporation shows that deaths in the U.S. from synthetic opioids are primarily from fentanyl. The increase is more than 10-fold in 5 years from around 3,000 victims fatal overdose fentanyl deaths in 2013 to more than 30,000 in 2018. Their report indicates that presently, synthetic opioids like fentanyl are responsible for double the amount of deaths than heroin.
The report also concludes that there are specific parts of the U.S. and Canada that synthetic drugs, like fentanyl, are dominant, and in some areas, fentanyl is replacing heroin altogether. In the U.S., west of the Mississippi River, are the states that should mostly remain vigilant to the influx of synthetic opioids.
Why are Synthetic Opioids on the Rise?
Synthetic opioids are primarily a strategic tool for dealers, because it helps them lower costs or to skirt drug laws. With this intention, the growth of synthetic opioids in North America occurs mostly from supplier-driven decisions and not user demand.
Some other factors that explain the rise of these drugs in North America are:
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- The strength and immediate effects
- Anonymous e-commerce
- Challenges in detecting its presence
- Poor regulation in China
Fentanyl Quick Spread
One of the scariest factors is the belief that fentanyl will have the potential to sweep the market once it gains a foothold in the U.S. If we take into consideration that this powerful drug has brought a much larger wave of death, rather than new drug users, the future looks grim.
Illegally made fentanyl is linked to recent cases of fentanyl deaths and overdose, given it is clandestinely manufactured primarily in China or Mexico. In Mexico, drug traffickers are rapidly embracing synthetic opioids, even over heroin. In the beginning, China was the most influential supplier. At the present time, the majority is smuggled from Mexico because heroin is more complicated and more expensive to produce. Synthetics opioids are created from chemicals in makeshift laboratories in a matter of hours. In January, U.S. border agents intercepted a truck carrying 254 pounds of the deadly drug on its way from Mexico to Arizona.
The key ingredient in the production of fentanyl is the molecule 4-aniline-N-phenethyl-4-piperidine smuggled from Asia. While it costs roughly $32,000 to produce one kilogram of fentanyl, the street value equates to $20mm USD.
Street names are:
- China Girl
- China White
- Dance Fever
- Great Bear
- Tango & Cash
Many opioid users believe that they are purchasing heroin when, in fact, they are buying fentanyl, which often results in overdose deaths.
Ten-Fold Rise in Fentanyl Deaths in Certain Areas
Presently, the most affected areas of fentanyl distribution are the Northeast, Midwest, and Appalachia. Immediate efforts have to be made in order to prevent these deadly drugs from becoming entrenched in all parts of the country.
New approaches for fighting this ongoing threat should include:
- New ways to disrupt online drug transactions
- More accessibility to medically assisted opioid detoxification
- Increase of available mental health care
- Better handle of the influx of illegal drugs from other countries, especially China
- Improving detection of overdose screenings
Providing Treatment for Fentanyl Abuse
In general, to effectively treat those suffering from opioid use disorder, it is crucial to expand access to complete medical detoxification. If we combine a successful detox with counseling and behavioral therapies, the chances of a full recovery are much higher. Therefore, we need to provide people with options to become opioid-free. The endless revolving doors of rehabs, maintenance drugs, and long-term drug treatments often make people feel hopeless.
Becoming free of drug dependence and the ability to participate in a productive life provides people with inner strength and confidence. To emphasize, these two attributes are crucial for sustaining a healthy and happy life. It is essential to provide effective treatment for people seeking freedom from opioid dependence. When physical dependence and cravings are not present, the risk of overdose and even death declines significantly.