The pandemic took this country’s fentanyl problem from dangerous to devastating
Street drugs have been cut with lethal ingredients for years, but the past 12 months have been exceptionally awful.
From the very beginning of the pandemic, a lot of us suspected that public safety measures like quarantine and social distancing would be hard on people with substance misuse disorders. But, like so many terrible surprises the pandemic brought, I don’t think any of us ever knew how bad it would get. Overdose deaths skyrocketed in sync with COVID cases, and new findings show that much of the devastation is due to the consumption of street drugs laced with fentanyl.
According to new data released Wednesday by the CDC, more than 100,000 Americans died of drug overdose between May 2020 and April 2021. That number is up from the 78,000 people in the U.S. that died in the previous year, the New York Times reported. Many experts say that the increase is due to the rise of mental health issues, reduced accessibility to treatment options, and the fact that more and more street drugs are being cut with dangerous substances, according to the outlet.
The U.S. government has seized enough fentanyl this year to give everyone in the U.S. a lethal dose, CNN reported. Fentanyl, in case you don’t know, is a powerful synthetic opioid — up to 100 times more powerful than morphine. It’s been used to cut street drugs — like heroin — for years, and is now being used to make counterfeit pharmaceuticals like Percocet and Fentanyl.
The drug users who are dying don’t fit into racist and classist stereotypes, and they aren’t all buying them from nefarious hooded figures on street corners, either. In many recent cases, the victims of overdose due to fentanyl toxicity have been teenagers and young people, and even a baby in North Carolina who was left unsupervised. And people are increasingly getting drugs via social media platforms like Snapchat, CNN reported.
“These are numbers we have never seen before,” Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told the Times. And while there are some drug users who seek out fentanyl, most do not, she explained. “Many people are dying without knowing what they are ingesting,” Volkow said.
For its part, the Biden Administration says it is going to make it easier for people to access naloxone — a drug that can reverse opioid overdose — by encouraging states to make laws that will make it more accessible. On Wednesday, the White House laid out a legislative road map that states can use to enact such laws. “I believe that no one should die of an overdose simply because they didn’t have access to naloxone,” Rahul Gupta, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, told the Times.