Today, America is facing a disturbing opioid phenomenon. Between 2011 and 2016, the rate of fentanyl-overdose fatalities shot up more than 1,000 percent. Starting in 2014, deaths due to fentanyl overdosing began to double, reports CNN. More than 4,223 deaths turned into 8,251 by 2015, and then a whopping 18,335 the following year. So, the question is, why has the death toll for this drug surpassed that of heroin, and who are the main victims?
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, fentanyl is less complicated for drug dealers to create than are several other opioids. For example, unlike heroin, fentanyl does not require poppies, which “can be spoiled by weather or a bad harvest.” Instead, only synthesized chemicals are necessary for the making of fentanyl. These chemicals are usually produced in China and put in packages for sale in Mexico before transported to the U.S..
Fentanyl can be up to 50 times more potent than heroin, says the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Therefore, this powerful drug makes it more likely to overdose, and consequently, to die. Additionally, the high from fentanyl fades faster than that of heroin. As a result, drug users inject more frequently. According to NPR, more frequent injecting increases one’s risk of a fatal overdose. However, not all of fentanyl’s consumers realize that they are indeed consumers. For example, cross contamination of drugs is not rare. If a dealer is packaging cocaine or methane, the drugs might accidentally mix with some fentanyl.
By 2013, fentanyl overdosing was prevalent among both men and women. However, by 2016 these statistics began to change. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, death rates in men became 3 times higher than women due to fentanyl overdoses. Boston Medical Center’s Injury Prevention Center claims that women are more likely to buy and use drugs with a partner, rather than alone, and are more likely to seek help, whether that be 911 or long-term treatment. Therefore, they are less likely to die from an overdose than are men.
Additionally, 15- to 34-year-olds face a higher increase in fentanyl-caused deaths than any other age group. From 2011 to 2016, the rate of deaths from this age group increased by more than 100 percent each year. According to CNN, whites had the highest rate of fentanyl-induced deaths overall. However, black and Hispanic fatality rates “were growing faster.” One reason is because medication-based treatment may be less available for racial minority groups, says NPR. Additionally, many Latinos claim that there are not many bilingual treatment programs available.
Nonetheless, there is a glimmer of hope. Naloxone, a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose, is becoming more available to drug abusers around the country. By spreading both naloxone, and awareness of overdosing, our country can work towards reversing the fentanyl-overdose trend.