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A drug that claimed over 100,000 overdose deaths in one year in the US

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It’s the largest increase ever recorded in the United States – and it’s growing at an alarming rate each month, according to drug researchers.

According to the US CDC, over 100,000 persons died in the United States from overdoses in the 12-month period ending in April.

It’s the largest increase ever witnessed in the United States, and it’s only getting bigger each month, drug researchers say.

At least 60 percent of these deaths are linked to Fentanyl, according to Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This is a 50 percent rise in just one year, she said.

“It’s devastating,” she said. “It’s an epidemic within the pandemic.”

Even before the pandemic, fentanyl-related deaths had been on the upswing across the country.

Volkow said it’s not uncommon to see people turn to drugs or alcohol when they’re going through a tough period.

“But what we didn’t expect was that during that period, there will be a massive increase in the entry of these illicit substances into the country.”

More fentanyl is entering the United States than ever before, making the drug supply even more hazardous.

“The trajectory is up, with no leveling off,” Daniel Ciccarone, the Justine Miner endowed professor of addiction medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, said. “There’s nothing that says it’s slowing down.”

A “triple wave” of opioids, from pain pills to heroin to fentanyl, is wreaking havoc, he said.

“Fentanyl is an extraordinarily potent drug. It was manufactured specifically to be much more potent than morphine,” Volkow said. It’s also incredibly profitable, she said. “If someone is a drug dealer, they make much more money by selling fentanyl than by selling heroin or selling cocaine.”

Fentanyl domination is another frightening development. One fatal contact with fentanyl is killing people who have never taken opioids before.

“They are not opioid users, and they don’t know that these drug are contaminated and they die with one single exposure,” Volkow said.

A safe dose of fentanyl might be difficult to estimate even for those who are used to taking opioids. Fentanyl is generally disliked by experienced drug users, but as the availability of prescription pills and heroin has decreased, dealers have started including it into their supply.

People, including children, are taking what they believe to be legal Percocet or Xanax pills with their companions, according to experts and mourning families.

“Counterfeit pills are a big part of the story,” Ciccarone said. High-quality pill presses can make the substance look like a legitimate medication. “They look for all the world like the real thing.”

As it has moved westward, “people are not accustomed to it, and don’t know how to use it,” he added. Fentanyl has spread around the east coast for roughly 10 years. First, fentanyl overdoses were more prevalent among whites, but now communities of color are bearing the brunt.

“It’s going into new groups and causing devastation,” Ciccarone said.

There are, however, a few options. Buprenorphine, an opioid addiction medicine, is available to individuals who need it and can help prevent overdoses. Low-cost test strips can detect the presence of fentanyl in other substances. Stability in one’s living arrangements can also help to reduce the likelihood of abusing drugs or alcohol.

It is possible to reverse an overdose of fentanyl by using the medicine naloxone as soon as possible, but the price of naloxone has grown considerably this year, making it unavailable to many who need it most.

“We just need more of it,” Ciccarone said.

Ciccarone applauded the Biden administration’s recent announcement of harm reduction programs, which he characterized as a positive development.

Ciccarone also emphasized the importance of addressing the underlying imbalances that are fueling the overdose issue.

“We’ll continue to have wave over wave over wave of drug overdoses unless we address the inequities in our society. It’s a wake-up call, and civilizations do fall if they don’t address the instabilities in their population.”

Image Credit: iStock

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