Overdose deaths continue to be on the rise and many of those deaths occur from individuals consuming counterfeit or laced prescription opioids.
Prescription pain relief
Opioid based pain relievers such as Morphine, Oxycodone, and Hydrocodone were created for doctors to help their patients manage severe to chronic pain. Although they can be helpful for pain, they also mimic the euphoric feeling produced by another addictive opioid: heroin. Far too often, patients become addicted to these pharmaceutical opioids and begin obtaining them elsewhere, outside of a doctor’s care.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are, after marijuana (and alcohol), the most commonly abused substances by Americans 14 and older.“ While heroin is extremely dangerous and has definite negative connotations associated with its use, prescription opioid abuse is more common and sadly, often overlooked. Additionally, misusing prescription pain pills can lead to heroin use as well. The NID notes “about 4 to 6 percent who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin and “about 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids”.
Rising overdose deaths
Opioid abuse has been declared a crisis throughout Utah and the nation, yet the amount of individuals using and overdosing continues to rise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state: “Drug overdose deaths and opioid-involved deaths continue to increase in the United States. The majority of drug overdose deaths (more than six out of ten) involve an opioid. Since 1999, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioids and heroin) quadrupled. From 2000 to 2015 more than half a million people died from drug overdoses. 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.”
While many overdose deaths occur from a person intentionally misusing or overusing a prescription drugs, other deaths are caused by taking counterfeit pills made to look like authentic pain relievers or pills laced with high amounts of other substances. One commonly used ingredient in laced or counterfeit pills is a synthetic opioid known as fentanyl. Fentanyl is similar to other prescription opioids such as OxyContin and morphine, however the effects of fentanyl are “50 to 100 times more potent” according to the NID. That potency increase comes at a price though. The NID affirms “Among more than 64,000 drug overdose deaths estimated in 2016, the sharpest increase occurred among deaths related to fentanyl ( . . . ).”
Laced or phony pills
Sadly, addiction does not allow the danger of fentanyl in prescription drugs to stop individuals from consuming pills bought off the street. Some may think they are doing their due diligence by verifying the pill’s size, color, and imprint on pill checking websites, however many counterfeit prescription drugs on the street look just like original. The only way to know for sure what is contained in a pill is to obtain the medication with a valid prescription. Since that is unlikely to happen for addicts, drug treatment and rehabilitation is encouraged to help those fighting addiction.
Loved ones of addicts unable to successfully rehabilitate are encouraged to obtain life saving measures to save their family member or friend should an overdose occur. When a person overdoses on opioids, their respiratory system slows down to a stop which can quickly lead to death. Naloxone, known commercially as Narcan reminds the brain to signal the lungs to breathe. Previously obtainable with a prescription, the nasal spray Narcan is now available over the counter. Walgreens has just announced that nearly 80,000 of their stores across the nation will now be stocked with the lifesaving medication. Until more can be done to prevent mass opioid abuse, at least there are things in place to reduce the lives lost to this dangerous epidemic.