NYT: Drug Overdoses Are A ‘Modern Plague’

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Deaths from drug overdoses increased by the largest margin in recorded history in 2016 in the U.S., according to preliminary data from The New York Times.

Deaths from opioids continue to be the primary driver of drug related deaths, fueled by the introduction of potent opioid analogs like fentanyl and carfentanil into drug supplies. While official government numbers will not be available until December, experts analyzing local data estimate roughly 62,500 Americans died of a drug overdose in 2016, reports The New York Times.

That would represent a 19 percent increase over the 52,404 people who died from drug overdoses in 2015, previously the deadliest year on record. Experts say early data suggests deaths from opioids and other drugs will continue to increase in 2017. More than two million Americans have some sort of physical dependence on opioids and nearly 100 million Americans have a prescription for the drugs.

Drug overdoses are now the number one cause of death for Americans under 50.

Officials with the DEA say four out of five heroin addicts started with painkillers. Overtime opioids start to rewrite pathways in the brain and suppress rational thought. The drug floods the brain with dopamine when used, which overtime associates addiction with happiness in the mind of addicts. (RELATED: Why Drug Addiction Is A Lifelong Fight Against The Brain)

“Heroin is the devil’s drug man,” Cliff Parker, a 24,year-old recovering addict in Akron, OH, told The New York Times. “No one wants their family to find them face down with a needle in their arm, but no one stops until they’re ready.”

The emergence of synthetic opioids is blamed as the primary driver of drug deaths since 2010. Fentanyl is a painkiller roughly 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine that is cut into heroin supplies and even put into knock-off pills.

Fentanyl is infiltrating drug supplies across the country because of how cheap the substance is compared to standard narcotics. While a kilogram of heroin from a Mexican cartel will cost a domestic supplier roughly $64,000, they can order a kilogram of fentanyl through the mail from China for as little as $2,000. It can also be used to create roughly 20 times more doses than heroin, providing dealers with huge profits.

Carfentanil, a synthetic analog of fentanyl, is roughly 5,000 times stronger than heroin and is used for tranquilizing elephants. The powerful chemicals are cut into the heroin and branded with names like “Grey Death,” which actually entice addicts who are looking to score “the ultimate high.”

Officials in the U.S. are becoming increasingly concerned about fentanyl and carfentanil cropping up in cocaine supplies, which is already being seen in Illinois, New York and Rhode Island. The development is particularly alarming for law enforcement who note that, unlike heroin, cocaine is more widely used as a social drug.

They fear that users are largely unaware of fentanyl being cut up with cocaine and say it will have deadly consequences. Less than half a teaspoon of pure fentanyl is enough to kill 10 people.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention releases an annual tally of total drug overdose deaths, which are also broken down by substance, but drug deaths take a long time to certify at the federal level. The final numbers for 2016 are not expected until December. The New York Times culled through data from state health departments and county medical examiners and coroners, predicting there were between 59,000 and 65,000 drug deaths in 2016.

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