Fentanyl and Synthetic Opioid Overdose Deaths Doubled In 2016

fentanyl and heroin vials
Lethal dose of heroin compared to a lethal dose of fentanyl

Death by Fentanyl Overdose is on the Rise

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid used for pain management, has surpassed heroin as a leading cause of drug overdose deaths.  According to a CDC Report, the number of drug overdose deaths in the US increased by 21% last year.  Synthetic-opioid fatalities more than doubled during this period.

The National Center for Health Statistics, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC) estimates that 64,070 people in the US  died of drug overdose last year.  An increase of 21% over the 52,898 drug overdose deaths recorded in 2015.  This is double the rate of death for firearm and motor vehicle related deaths.  In the US Fentanyl caused 20,100 deaths in 2016, a rise of 540% over the past 3 years.   The drug gained national notoriety when medical examiners concluded that musician Prince died from an accidental fentanyl overdose.

The researchers for the CDC wrote “The first wave of deaths began in 1999 and included deaths involving prescription opioids. It was followed by a second wave, beginning in 2010, and characterized by deaths involving heroin. A third wave started in 2013, with deaths involving synthetic opioids, particularly illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF). IMF is now being used in combination with heroin, counterfeit pills, and cocaine.” 

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid analgesic that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent.  It’s typically prescribed to treat patients with severe pain or to manage pain after surgery.  In its prescription form, its known by such names as Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze.

How is Fentanyl Used?

When prescribed by a doctor, fentanyl is often administered via injection, a patch, or in lozenge form. However, much of the  fentanyl that’s being associated with illicit use and overdose deaths is being produced in clandestine laboratories. This illegal, non-pharmaceutical drug is being found as a powder,  spiked on blotter paper; mixed with or substituted for heroin; or as tablets that look like other, less potent opioids. Most often the drug is snorted, swallowed or injected.

How Does Fentanyl Affect The Brain?

Fentanyl acts much like heroin or morphine by binding to the body’s opioid receptors, which are found in areas of the brain that control pain and emotions.  When opioid drugs bind to these receptors, they can drive up dopamine levels in the brain’s reward areas, producing a state of euphoria and relaxation.  The drug’s effects resemble those of heroin and include euphoria, drowsiness, nausea, confusion, constipation, sedation, tolerance, addiction, respiratory depression and arrest, unconsciousness, coma, and death.

What Makes Fentanyl So Dangerous?

Opioid receptors are also found in the areas of the brain that control breathing.  Significant doses of opioids, especially potent opioids such as fentanyl, can cause breathing to stop completely.  Because the drug is so powerful and in street form the dose is often unknown, or the user thinks they are using a lower potency drug they are at a great risk of overdose or death.  Fentanyl sold on the street can be mixed with heroin or cocaine, which markedly amplifies its potency and potential dangers.

The medication naloxone is an opioid receptor antagonist that reverses opioid overdose and restores normal respiration.  Overdoses of fentanyl should be treated immediately with naloxone.

Treatment for Fentanyl Addiction

Treatment for and recovery from Fentanyl is similar to treating a heroin or other opioid or opiate addition.   The best course is to see a medical professional who specializes in addiction.  A medical detox is a possibility as well as in-patient treatment.  At the very least the treatment and recovery should be monitored and supervised by a medical specialist.  It should be noted that coming off of an opioid addiction poses serious health risks, going “cold turkey” like in the movies can be dangerous.

Formal treatment with support group participation is the ideal plan of action.  There are numerous free and confidential support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous, Heroin Anonymous, and Opiates Anonymous to name a few.

If you are struggling with an opioid addiction reach out to a treatment center in your community.  Get help today.  And our National Addiction Hotline is here 24/7 to provide guidance and treatment options.  1-888-352-6072

Learn The Facts About Opioids and Opiates

and better understand opioid and opiate addicts in our “Heroin And Opioid Addiction In Their Own Words“.

Teen Drug Use Is Down But Opioid Overdoses Are Up

While Teen Drug Use is Down Deadly Opioid Overdoses Are On The Rise

teen drug use
Teen drug use is down, but overdose deaths are up

According to a new report put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drug overdose deaths among older American teenagers increased in 2015.  This was after a steady decline and in spite of the fact that overall drug use among this group has declined.  The research showed that between 1999 and 2015, drug overdose death rates for 15- to 19-year-olds more than doubled.  In total, there were 772 drug overdose deaths among older teens in 2015, with two-thirds more deaths among males than females. Between 2014 and 2015, the overdose death rate for males in this age group rose 15 percent. For women the rate increased 35 percent between 2013 and 2015.

Noteworthy is that over 80 percent of overdose deaths were unintentional, the rest were due to suicides or homicides involving drug overdose.

Opioids Are The Leading Cause of Teen Overdose

A 2015 study in the journal Pediatrics also found that teens who are prescribed opioids in high school are 33 percent more likely to abuse any opioid or opiate between ages 19 and 23.  Such prescriptions are often the result of a sports injury.

Heroin Use Among Teenagers Is Also More Prevalent

Opioids and prescription pain killers appear to be gateway drugs for heroin.  Heroin is typically less expensive and widely available.  Several states have passed laws limiting how many opioid pills doctors can prescribe at a time.  While many teens begin with prescription opioids, others reach heroin after years of experimenting with other drugs.

Helping Teenagers

There are some bright spots in this reports.  According to this survey in 2016 drug use, other than marijuana, among teens is at its lowest point in decades.   Over the last five years abuse of prescription opioids among 12th graders. Heroin use among 10th- and 12th-grade students remains very low.

For teenagers who develop drub abuse problems and drug addiction, some sort of intervention is critical.  Whether an out patient counseling program, or in patient treatment center, it’s important to help a teenager end their drug use and get their life pointed back in a positive direction.  These are there formative years and some bad habits can be lethal.
If you or your teenagers is struggling with drug abuse, call a professional in your community and get answers and guidance.  And our National Addiction Hotline is here for you 24/7. 1-888-352-6072

Learn the Facts About Opioids and Opiates and read Heroin and Opioid Addiction: In Their Own Words

Addiction Hotline Facts About Opioids and Opiates

What are opiates and opioids?

CDC Opioid statistics
CDC Opioid statistics

Opiates are a drug derivative of opium. Originally “opioids” referred to synthetic opiates (drugs created to mimic opium,). Today the term term Opioid is used to describe the entire family of opiates including natural, synthetic and semi-synthetic.  An opioid is best described as is any chemical or agent that binds to opioid receptors (which are protein molecules located on the membranes of some nerve cells).  These cells are primarily found in the central nervous system and gastrointestinal tract.

There are four broad classes of opioids:

  1. Endogenous opioid, naturally produced in the body, endorphins 
  2. Opium alkaloids, such as morphine and codeine
  3. Semi-synthetic opioids such as heroin,oxycodone, and Buprenorphine
  4. Fully synthetic opioids, such as methadone

Examples of opioids are: painkillers such as morphine, methadone, Buprenorphine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone. Heroin is also an opioid and is illegal. Opioid drugs sold under brand names include: OxyContin® , Percocet® , Vicodin® , Percodan® , Tylox® and Demerol® among others.  What they all have in common is each is highly addictive.

How do opioids affect people?

Opioids attach to receptors in the brain. Normally these opioids are the endogenous variety created naturally in the body. Once attached, they send signals to the brain of the “opioid effect” which blocks pain, slows breathing, and has a general calming and anti-depressing effect. The body cannot produce enough natural opioids to stop severe or chronic pain nor can it produce enough to cause an overdose.

Nearly 2 million Americans abused or were dependent on prescription opioids in 2014 – Center for Disease Control

The “High” from an opioid is not intoxication or impairing as it is with alcohol.

At low to moderate doses the “High” from opioids is not intoxication or impairing (as with alcohol). It does not feel like alcohol or marijuana, or hallucinogens. It instead provides feelings of intense joy and comfort, more so than can be obtained naturally.

At higher doses, breathing is impaired, it slows down and can result in death. This respiratory depression is the actual cause of overdose deaths.  With opioids there is a small window between euphoria and death.

How dangerous are opioids?

Opioids are highly addictive and very dangerous.  Not only will they cause an array of health problems they’re prone to overdose and death.  The CDC has published many papers on opioid overdose and death.  Some of their findings include:

Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US with 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2015.  From 1999 to 2008, overdose death rates, sales and substance use disorder treatment admissions related to prescription pain relievers increased in parallel. The overdose death rate in 2008 was nearly four times the 1999 rate”

Is there hope for opioid addicts and users?

Yes of course.  In spite of the highly addictive nature of opioids, opiates, and prescription drugs addicts stop using all the time.  It takes an honest desire and reaching out for assistance.  We highly encourage any opioid addict or user to see a trained health professional to help address any withdrawal symptoms they might experience.

If you or a loved one is struggling with drug addiction call someone today.  Get help, life if short and you deserve better.