Synthetic opioid-related deaths soar 80 percent in one-year span

deaths from synthetic opioids

There were 28,647 drug poisoning deaths attributed to opioids in 2014.

The rates of opioid abuse in the United States continue to be on the rise. Statistics regarding the number of opioid overdoses paint a stark picture of the current state of affairs: heroin overdose rates have tripled since 2010.

The situation is exacerbated by the rising popularity of synthetic opioids, with the number of deaths caused by these laboratory-formulated substances having risen 80 percent between 2013 and 2014.

The opioid epidemic has caused a shocking amount of damage in the U.S., with the number of deaths opioid-related overdosed increasing 200 percent since 2000. While the number of prescriptions for opioids paralleled the rates of abuse and fatality from 2002 through 2010, prescription rates leveled off between 2013 and 2014. By contrast, the rates of overdoses caused by opioids did not even out, with the rate of death caused by synthetic opioids nearly doubling during that same period.

In fact, the availability of legitimate prescriptions for opioids — or, more often, the lack of availability of legitimate opioid prescriptions — directly informs the availability and rates of use of other synthetic opioids. For instance, a person might have become addicted to opioids due to a legitimate prescription, but when the prescription had been exhausted and another prescription can’t be obtained, that same person might turn to an illicit opioid in order to satisfy their craving.

One synthetic opioid that is often abused is fentanyl, which is 50 times as potent as heroin. Rates of illegal fentanyl production, which typically occur overseas, have skyrocketed in recent years, and the number of substances obtained by law enforcement that tested positive for fentanyl has risen by more than 400 percent between 2013 and 2014.

Many of those who overdose on fentanyl purchase the substance believing it is actually something else; unscrupulous dealers may market the fentanyl as OxyContin, Xanax or other common substances of abuse in order to move their product. In some instances, long-term abusers of opioids overdose on fentanyl because they believe they are purchasing oxycodone or another similarly less potent substance.

However, the spectrum of illicit synthetic opioids encompasses more than just fentanyl. Dealers eager to make a profit by any means possible will sometimes sell synthetic opioids that have their origins in legitimate laboratories.

While these substances may have begun as opioid agonists intended for use as painkillers, many of them were never approved for production, which can also mean that they were never tested for human consumption.

As a result, there is little to no data available on how these substances affect humans, which can lead to unpredictable and dangerous results.

In one instance, carfentanil, an extremely potent derivative of fentanyl intended for use as an elephant tranquilizer, caused a startling 27 overdoses in 24 hours in Columbus, Ohio last year. Even in zoology settings, it’s considered… (continue reading)