Heroin is claiming more victims and reaching new levels of deadly potency with the introduction of a variant called fentanyl.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data shows that use of heroin among 18-25 year olds has doubled in the past decade. Between 2002 through 2008, heroin addiction rates hovered around one person for every 100,000 people, but starting in 2009, those numbers have rised.
In 2009, the rate shot up to 1.6 per 100,000, and by 2013 — the last year on record — it had doubled from the 2002 rate to two per 100,000. The CDC notes that those who are addicted to opioid medications are 40 times more likely to become addicted to heroin.
Even more astonishing are the rates of heroin overdoses resulting in death. CDC data shows that in 2002 .7 per 100,000 people were dying from heroin overdoses. By 2013, that rate had nearly quadrupled to 2.7 per 100,000 people.
Worse yet, DEA data also shows a precipitous decline in the price of a “pure” gram of heroin. In 1981, a gram cost roughly $3,250, but by 2012 the price had plummeted to roughly $500 per gram. This, in large part, is due to Mexican drug cartels flooding the market. The DEA also notes that heroin, once considered a drug for those in urban areas, has spread its appeal to more suburban localities
One of the reasons for the spike in heroin-related deaths has to do with a powerful drug called fentanyl.
Fentanyl is an opioid painkiller 100 times more potent than morphine. A more powerful version called “carfentanil,” is used to “immobilize certain large animals,” like elephants, by veterinarians and is 10,000 times more potent than morphine, and 100 times more potent than regular fentanyl.
Fentanyl is so powerful, it is dosed out in micrograms, not milligrams. For reference, one microgram is equal to .0001 milligrams. Initially it was used as an anesthetic and to treat those suffering pain associated with cancer, but it is now sometimes prescribed for those with “chronic pain.”
A West Virginia county just had 26 heroin overdoses in under five hours, and fentanyl is suspected to have been laced into the heroin. Fentanyl-laced heroin is also suspected in Vermont, where 10 people overdosed in one weekend.
Another potential reason for the spike in heroin use is the legalization of marijuana in certain states. Once marijuana became legalized in these states, the marijuana business in Mexico took a massive hit, Esquire reported in an Aug. 9 article. Mexican cartels who dealt in marijuana took a 40 percent hit to their bottom line, and fields that once grew the plant are now barren. As opposed to absorbing the loss, the cartels simply increased sales of a different drug: heroin.
Jeannie Richards is founder and president of a heroin and opiate prevention and education group called Bryan’s Hope. She says a big reason for the heroin scourge is overprescription of opioids from doctors.
“The problem has been doctors overprescribing and people are abusing,” Richards told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Once that supply runs out, and they are now physically addicted, they will seek street heroin because it is chemically the same drug.”
Richards also thinks we need a new system to track real-time prescriptions.
“Change the prescription drug monitoring data to record real-time and make doctors and pharmacists use it each time a prescription is filled,” Richards said. She also thinks we need to “educate doctors about not overprescribing. “”Most people won’t tell you they have a problem because of the shame until the problem is so far gone,” Richards continued. “Silence is allowing the crisis to go from epidemic to pandemic,” said Richards.
Legendary seven-time Grammy Award winning musician Prince died from an accidental overdose of painkillers laced with fentanyl.
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