American Overdose Epidemics
Over the past several years, opioid abuse rates expanded into the current crisis devastating the country with overwhelming overdose death rates. Experts point out that prescription drug abuse made a significant contribution to the beginning of this issue. However, now overdose deaths relating to prescription painkillers is finally showing signs of shrinking back. However, deaths relating to fentanyl overdose are spiking. Meanwhile, deaths relating to methamphetamine are also helping fuel a rising overall drug overdose rate. Now, experts are starting to wonder if America’s current course will only lead to one new drug crisis after another.
Is America getting stuck in a cycle of continuous crisis? Will this be the new normal until we change our drug policies and the way we address addiction?
From Painkillers to a Fentanyl Crisis
Back in 2017, we started to see a more serious shift from prescription drugs toward illicit street drugs. More specifically, the synthetic opioid fentanyl started gaining popularity in the underground drug trade. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), synthetic opioids like fentanyl were involved in 19,413 deaths in 2016. In 2017, 60% of opioid deaths involved fentanyl.
What was once an obscure threat is now a well-known danger all over the country. And even worse, in the beginning, most did not realize what they were using. Fentanyl is often cut into heroin and other narcotics. It is even pressed into pills that look similar to prescription opioids and other less harmful drugs. Needless to say, many overdose victims have been unsuspecting users who did not know the dangers of the substance they were consuming.
The chemicals used to create fentanyl are usually imported from China. Due to issues with detecting shipments coming from overseas, the United States is dealing with massive amounts of the deadly substance. Fentanyl is far cheaper to produce than heroin. Therefore, this lethal chemical offers a bigger profit margin for drug traffickers.
For now, we aren’t seeing much indication that the trend of fentanyl overdoses will be turning around. However, there have been several notable busts in the news over the last few months. Astonishing amounts of the substance have been seized in various large shipments. The Dark Web offers up a digital and marketplace that makes illicit drug sales hard to trace. Thankfully, by working with Dutch authorities the US Justice Department was recently able to shut down two major dark web sites where deals were made.
Still, today the opioid crisis is killing more than 130 people every day. As of now, the epidemic has found no end.
Another Meth Crisis on the Way?
While everyone has been focusing so vehemently on the opioid crisis ravaging the country, other illicit substances began to infect other areas of the country. Reports on overdose deaths indicate:
- 2011- There were 1,887 meth-related deaths reported.
- 2017- Spiked to more than 10,000 deaths were reported related to meth and other chemically-similar psychostimulants.
In rural pockets of America the drug is again finding a market, including in some parts of:
Alaska saw their meth-related overdose rate quadruple between 2008-2016. Southwest Virginia saw seizures of methamphetamine triple in just two years. In many parts of the nation where opioid abuse appears to be settling down, it is apparent that methamphetamines are quickly picking up the slack.
Between 2010 and 2017, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) states that meth seizures have increased by a staggering 118%.
According to reports, the DEA concludes that most meth is coming mainly from Mexico. Cartels have taken up the meth trade following strong US crackdown on meth labs in America. Mexican drug traffickers have since stepped in to fill the void with the use of what authorities refer to as “superlabs” where their product is made purer and cheaper. Some superlabs are able to cook up hundreds of pounds a day, reaching purity levels around 95-99% pure.
If there is a meth crisis on the horizon, it would not be the first for America. In fact, Congress passed the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 (CMEA) to try and combat the growing issue by tightening regulations of retail products being used to make the illicit chemical.
Now, with more potent meth being smuggled into the country at alarming rates, how long will it take before another meth crisis rises up to rival the current opioid epidemic?
Fighting Crises with Compassion and Healthcare
Many believe that part of the reason the United States continues to grapple with drug abuse and overdose outbreaks is because of the way we have addressed these issues thus far. After all, most experts, recovery advocates and even lawmakers agree that the War on Drugs was a failure in more ways than one. This more punitive approach to addiction only created more issues than it has solved, including:
- Dooming millions of Americans to prison for low-level, non-violent drug offenses
- Costing taxpayers billions of dollars each year
- Crying a cycle of poverty and recidivism
- Empowers drug traffickers and feeds a cycle of violence
Still, several studies have shown that providing treatment is a more effective strategy than incarceration. Instead of throwing money away to track down and punish people, advocates and experts have been urging for years that we focus on education and treating addiction as a public health issue.
In fact, we have been fortunate enough in recent years to witness some promising shifts in drug policy. Across America, there are legions of police departments that have established what are often called Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiatives (PAARI). These are programs that encourage drug users to go to local police stations to turn in drugs and/or ask for help getting into treatment without fear of arrest.
Likewise, harm reduction programs are becoming more and more popular. For example, naloxone expansion programs have made the opioid overdose antidote more available to those most at risk. Needle exchange programs are helping to curb the spread of blood-borne illnesses that stem from needle sharing. More recently, there has even been talk about states that want to establish Safe Injection Sites to allow intravenous drug users a place where they can safely use drugs. While this seems like a far more radical idea, a lot of people think that saving lives is paramount. These facilities offer medical support to prevent overdose and death.
Comprehensive Addiction Treatment
Our best resource for combatting the spread of substance use disorder is comprehensive addiction treatment. Other methods are important for prevention and for the preservation of life. However, medical detox and inpatient treatment is a more direct way of offering solutions to the adverse effects of substance abuse and the common underlying issues.
If trying to punish our way out of every epidemic thus far has not worked, perhaps it is time to be more proactive in updating our drug policy in America. One of the priorities needs to be strengthening our communities by supporting treatment resources. As we raise awareness, we must also fight the stigma of addiction and offer compassion and assistance to those struggling.