Fentanyl-Laced Heroin: A Surge in Deadly Overdoses

If you’re only watching your local news, you may think that opiate abuse is rampant in your area – you may be right, but, today, there are few places where it isn’t. Called an epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we’ve seen the dangers of this crisis firsthand. At The Treatment Center, we’ve seen addiction compounded by a deadly cocktail of heroin and fentanyl.

While drug use of all kinds presents a compelling threat, perhaps no addiction is more dangerous than heroin. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, heroin overdoses have quadrupled since 1999, and the Drug Enforcement Agency reported 10,574 people died from heroin overdoses in 2014. That was a three-fold increase from just four years earlier. Heroin is now available in larger quantities and more people use it than at any other time in history – but the combination of heroin and fentanyl is even more dangerous than heroin alone.

Each day, users unknowingly buy a deadly variant of heroin laced with fentanyl, a power synthetic opioid estimated to be 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine.

Why Is Heroin Use Increasing?

The Rise in Deaths From Synthetic Opioids Statistic InfographicThe increased demand for heroin seems related to controlled prescription drug abuse. Heroin produces a similar high, is more widely available, and is less expensive than prescription opioids. Once considered an urban problem, heroin is in the suburbs, and no area – rich or poor – has been left unmarred. In 2014, heroin-related arrests surpassed those from marijuana for the first time in history.

As heroin use increases, so does the number of heroin overdose-related deaths. Government officials have linked the increase in heroin-related overdoses and deaths to changes in purity and formulation. Dealers are mixing heroin with fentanyl, and users have no way of knowing the strength of the drug they are given. This dangerous fentanyl-heroin mix is making its way from drug traffickers and into America’s neighborhoods, leaving a path of destruction in its wake.

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a highly addictive synthetic opioid. Developed in the late 1950s as an alternative to morphine, physicians use it to control pain in the terminally ill. In the 1980s, street chemists experimented with the formula and created a deadly variant called “China White,” which is the illicit version on the streets today.

Drug dealers mix heroin with fentanyl because it amplifies the effect of both drugs and creates a more potent high. Unfortunately, this often proves to be too much of a high. In a medical setting, health care workers monitor fentanyl dosage closely, but when taken recreationally, users may overdose, leading to nausea, confusion, sedation, respiratory depression, coma, or death.

Why Does Fentanyl Cause Overdose?

The sad truth is many users don’t know they’re buying fentanyl; they think they’re purchasing heroin. Since fentanyl is so much stronger, users may take their usual dose of tainted heroin, leading to overdose. A batch of heroin tainted with fentanyl can cause coma or death within minutes.

There might be a tainted batch of heroin in your area if you’ve noticed an increase of heroin-related deaths in the headlines. When a fentanyl-laced batch makes it into the market, police usually report multiple overdose deaths within a short time. Last year in West Virginia, one bad batch of heroin and fentanyl led to 27 overdoses in four hours. It was only because the police were equipped with naloxone, an opioid-reversing drug, that this wasn’t a mass-casualty event.

The Rise In Opioid-Related Deaths

State and local governments all over the nation are reporting an increase in opioid-related deaths, especially relating to fentanyl. In Ohio, one of the states hardest hit by the epidemic, there were 84 fentanyl and heroin-related deaths in 2013. By 2014, there were 503.

Maryland also struggles with this deadly mix. In the first quarter of 2015, there were 39 deaths reported in Baltimore and 73 throughout the state. New Jersey also has experienced an exponential increase in deaths, with rates tripling between 2013 and 2014.

Perhaps most troubling about these statistics is that drug dealers see this as a form of advertising. In fact, they may even get a boost in business from users who think they can never achieve a satisfying high. For people who buy from these dealers, overdose, coma, or death is only one use away.

What Can We Do About It?

Public health agencies have long understood the implications of opioid abuse, and other parties are beginning to catch up. The Drug Enforcement Agency has begun major crackdowns on pharmacy theft and prescription fraud, with nearly 3,500 reports of fraud from physicians and pharmacists in 2014.

In the meantime, states are giving first responders and emergency personnel access to naloxone to prevent deaths. In some states, loved ones of heroin users may administer this life-saving drug. CVS Pharmacy recently announced the sale of nonprescription naloxone in 14 states: Arkansas, California, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, North Dakota, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Utah, and Pennsylvania.

The Treatment Center And Recovery Options For Heroin

You may believe your addiction is only to heroin, but if you were unknowingly sold a heroin and fentanyl mix, your dependency might be stronger than you realize. Call our team for help with recovery. At The Treatment Center, we understand the dangers of these mixes, and we want to help before a bad batch causes irreversible damage or death. Our compassionate team is here to help you.

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