The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have released their final tally of fatal drug overdoses for 2016. All drug overdoses rose 21%, from 52,404 in 2015 to 63,632 in 2016. The vast majority of these were opioid overdoses, which rose 27% to 42,249 from the previous year.
At this point, the opioid epidemic is running wild–deaths outnumber those from AIDS at its peak, reports Christopher Ingraham for the Washington Post. This has led the Trump Administration to declare a public health emergency earlier this year, hoping to more effectively add to the almost billion dollars already spent this fiscal year in efforts to curb this growing issue.
WATCH: Miles reports on alternatives to opioids for pain management.
The increase in opioid overdoses has one main culprit: synthetic opioids. Since 2013, overdoses due to synthetic opioids have almost doubled every year, while other categories of opioids have risen by around 20% every year for the same timeframe.
2016 marked the first year synthetic opioids are the primary cause of all opioid overdoses, numbering over 19,000.
These synthetic drugs are very powerful–for example, one called fentanyl is estimated by the CDC to be “hundreds of times more potent than heroin.” Fentanyl is so powerful that a gaseous mixture of it was used by Russian special forces to subdue terrorists that took over 800 theatergoers hostage in Moscow in 2002.
“Commandos stormed the theater and killed the attackers, but more than 120 hostages died from the effects of the chemicals,” reported Erika Kinetz and Maria Danilova for AP News. “Many survivors suffered lasting health effects.”
Now, this drug has flooded the recreational drug market in the U.S. The federal government’s crackdown on prescription opioid abuse has created a demand for stronger and cheaper synthetic opioids, a demand that is being increasingly met by Chinese labs.
The regulations and enforcement around synthetic opioid production in China is more lax than it is in the U.S., making it easier to produce and export drugs such as fentanyl. China is stepping up and banning these drugs, but “as soon as one substance is banned, chemists create slightly different and technically legal alternatives and then market them online,” reports Louise Watt for AP/STAT.
“[T]he fundamental solution needs to be reducing the demand for opioids — so that people don’t seek out dangerous drugs like heroin or fentanyl in the first place,” writes German Lopez for VOX. “To put it simply: While a crackdown on supply might stop future generations of drug users, it doesn’t do much for the current generation of drug users who are addicted and want these drugs. That’s where treatment can come in to help people quit their addictions.”
WATCH: Miles talks to Dr. Jim Baker about his son’s fatal opioid addiction–one made worse by fentanyl.
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