Home PoliticsPolitical News Overdose deaths continue to rise, with fentanyl and methamphetamine the main culprits

Overdose deaths continue to rise, with fentanyl and methamphetamine the main culprits

by YAR

WASHINGTON — Drug overdose deaths continued to rise to record levels in 2021, approaching 108,000, according to new preliminary data released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The nearly 15 percent rise followed a much steeper rise of nearly 30 percent in 2020, an unrelenting crisis that has consumed federal and state drug policy officials. The number of drug overdose deaths has increased every year except 2018 since the 1970s.

A growing share of deaths came from overdoses of fentanyl, a class of powerful synthetic opioids that are often mixed with other drugs, and methamphetamine, a synthetic stimulant. State health officials fighting the influx of both drugs said many of the deaths appeared to be the result of the two combining.

Drug overdoses, which long ago surpassed the peak of the country’s deaths from AIDS, car accidents and firearms, killed about a quarter of Americans last year than Covid-19.

Deaths linked to synthetic opioids, much of it fentanyl, rose from 58,000 to 71,000, while those associated with stimulants such as methamphetamine, which has become cheaper and more deadly in recent years, rose from 25,000 to 33,000. Because fentanyl is a white powder, it can be easily combined with other drugs, including opioids like heroin and stimulants like methamphetamine and cocaine, and stamped into counterfeit anti-anxiety drug pills like Xanax. Such mixtures can be lethal if drug users do not know they are using fentanyl or are unsure of the dosage.

Deaths from both classes of drugs have increased in recent years.

But there is growing evidence that mixing stimulants and opioids, in combinations known as “speedballs” and “goofballs,” is also becoming more common. Dan Ciccarone, a professor of family and community medicine at the University of California, San Francisco who studies drug markets, has just begun a multiyear study of combining opioids and methamphetamine.

“There is an epidemic of interlocking synthetics like we have never seen before,” he said. “We have never seen a powerful opioid like fentanyl mixed with such a powerful methamphetamine.”

The figures released Wednesday are considered provisional and may change as the government reviews more death records. But they added more definition to a crisis that has escalated dramatically during the pandemic.

In recent weeks, the White House announced President Biden’s first national drug control strategy and plan to combat methamphetamine use, unveiled last week by his drug czar, Dr. Rahul Gupta, the first physician to oversee the White House Office of National Drug Control. Politics. Methamphetamine overdose deaths nearly tripled between 2015 and 2019 in people ages 18 to 64, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Mr. Biden is the first president to embrace harm reduction, an approach that has been criticized by some for enabling drug users, but has been praised by addiction experts as a way to keep drug users alive. while providing access to treatment and support.

Rather than encourage abstinence, the approach aims to reduce the risk of dying or acquiring infectious diseases by offering sterile equipment, through needle exchanges, for example, or tools to check for the presence of fentanyl in medications. Strips that can detect fentanyl have become increasingly valuable resources for local health officials, with some states recently moving to decriminalize them, even as others resist.

The causes of the continuing rise in overdoses are complex and difficult to unravel, experts said. But state health officials and some addiction experts said the surge in overdoses, which began before the pandemic, couldn’t be attributed solely to the disruptions that accompanied it, or to a major rise in the number of Americans using drugs.

Social isolation and economic dislocation, which have been widespread during the pandemic, tend to cause relapse in drug use and could have contributed to the increase in overdoses. Closures in early 2020 also caused some addiction treatment providers to temporarily close their doors. But the pandemic alone does not explain the recent trend.

Policy changes made during the pandemic may have helped prevent more deaths. Regina LaBelle, an addiction policy expert at Georgetown University, said early research had found that relaxing the rules to allow take-home methadone treatment had been beneficial, along with an increase in treatment through the telemedicine.

“The difference in what we’re seeing now is not how many people are using it,” said Dr. Anne Zink, chief health officer in Alaska, which saw the largest increase in the percentage of overdose deaths of any state in the nation, according to data released on Wednesday.

Instead, he said, the supply of fentanyl had ballooned, in shipments that were difficult to trace, penetrating even the most isolated parts of the state. Of the 140 fentanyl overdose deaths the state recorded in 2021, more than 60% also involved methamphetamine and nearly 30% involved heroin.

Fentanyl, which is manufactured in a laboratory, can be cheaper and easier to produce and distribute than heroin, adding to its appeal to dealers and traffickers. But because it is strong and is sold in different formulations, small differences in quantity can mean the difference between a drug user’s usual dose and one that proves deadly. It is especially dangerous when used unknowingly by drug users who do not typically use opioids. The spread of fentanyl in a growing portion of the nation’s drug supply has continued to baffle even states with strong addiction treatment services.

Often synthesized in Mexico from chemical precursors made in China, fentanyl long ago permeated the Northeast and Midwest heroin markets. But recent data shows that it has also established a strong presence in the South and West.

“The economics of fentanyl have been pushing other drugs out of the market,” said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, associate dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “It’s so cheap to buy fentanyl and turn around and put it in whatever.”

A recent study of illicit pills seized by drug authorities found that a substantial portion of what is marketed as OxyContin, Xanax or the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder drug Adderall now contains fentanyl. The spread of these counterfeit pills may explain a recent sharp rise in overdose deaths among teenagers, who are less likely to inject drugs than older people.

Pat Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, said that, like other states with rising overdose deaths, the clear difference in 2021 had been the ubiquity of fentanyl. Children as young as 12 are considered to be at high risk for counterfeit fentanyl-containing pills, she said, and high school students are overdosing on them, believing them to be opioid painkillers or anti-anxiety medications. The state was working to send naloxone tool kits to schools, a similar program it has used at fast-food restaurants, where people were overdosing in bathrooms.

Mr. Allen said he had seen an alarming phenomenon among those who overdose: they perceive the risk of fentanyl to be low, even though the actual risk is “severely higher”.

“We’ve had an addiction problem in Oregon that we’ve known about for a long time,” he said. “This takes that existing addiction problem and makes it much more dangerous.”

In 2021, overdoses represented a leading cause of death in the United States, similar to the number of people who died from diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, and about a quarter of the number of people who died from cause of covid-19, the third leading cause of death, according to the CDC

In Vermont, 93 percent of opioid deaths in 2021 were related to fentanyl, according to Kelly Dougherty, the state’s deputy health commissioner.

“In the early stages of the pandemic, we attributed the increase to the interruption of life,” he said. But now, he added, a different explanation seems clear: “What’s really the main driver is the presence of fentanyl in the drug supply.”

He said the state’s celebrated “hub and spoke” addiction treatment model and its aggressive use of medication-assisted treatment programs were not enough to deal with the ease and speed with which people overdose on fentanyl.

“You can have the strongest treatment system,” he said, “and not everyone is going to take advantage of it when they should, or before they end up with an overdose.”

And fentanyl is showing up in counterfeit pills, Dougherty said, including in OxyContin.

She said Vermont officials had taken new public messages about fentanyl.

“Just assume it’s everywhere,” he said.

Source link

Related Articles

Leave a Comment

The Float