American’s chasing the high

American Correspondant – Simone Flynn


Prescription painkillers are being given to patients at alarming rates in the United States. Image Credit: Eric Norris
Prescription painkillers are being given to patients at alarming rates in the United States. Image Credit: Eric Norris

A prescription problem

The 21st century marked the dawn of a new drug problem in the United States. The 2000’s ushered in a time where Americans would become extremely reliant on prescription opiates. Powerful drugs like Percocet and OxyContin for chronic pain relief were being prescribed at alarming rates. Research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that there was a 100 million person increase in the amount of prescriptions written for opiates from 2000-2010.

NIDA also highlights that Americans make up over 80 percent of the world’s opiate consumption. In 2014, over 29,000 Americans lost their lives due to opiates; a 329% increase since the year 2000. Prescription medication abuse has become so common that it affects have been felt throughout the nation.

Unable to continue their access to over the counter painkillers, or searching for a bigger high, users have moved to the street. Image Credit: Jordi Bernabeu Farrus
Unable to continue their access to over the counter painkillers, or searching for a bigger high, users have moved to the street. Image Credit: Jordi Bernabeu Farrus

Addicts take to the streets

2011 saw over 200 million opiate prescriptions written, and marked over 165,000 deaths caused by opiates since 2000. By this time the federal government had decided that action was required. And there is no denying that thanks to the efforts of the United States government it was much more difficult for people to get high-grade prescription painkillers. Though this in turn left addicts searching for the drugs on the street. Demand drove up the street price for prescription opiates and left addicts with no doctor or reliable means of getting their medicine. It was at this time that many in this position were introduced to heroin.

According to the CDC, the first quarter of 2011 saw a double in the amount of heroin users, as prescription opiates became harder to obtain. The DEA reported seizing double the amount of heroin and treatment centers from Los Angeles to New York City have seen a huge upswing in the number of opioid addictions.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine conducted research on heroin addicts who were receiving inpatient addiction treatment. 94 percent of the patients interviewed said they started taking prescription opiates before switching to heroin.  A 2015 study from the Center for Disease Control shows a “particularly strong” relationship between opiate painkillers and heroin abuse. The study claims that prescription opiate users are 40 times more likely to use heroin than non-opiate users. This is because drugs like Percocet and OxyContin are basically heroin in a pill. Dr. Tom Frieden, Director of the CDC says “we are priming people to addiction to heroin with the overuse of prescription opiates, which are, after all, essentially the same chemical with the same impact on the brain”.

Street heroin is being increasingly cut with stronger opiates such as Fentanyl - heightening the risk of overdose.
Street heroin is being increasingly cut with stronger opiates such as Fentanyl – heightening the risk of overdose.

Chasing that stronger high

The heroin problem in America has since worsened as dealers have begun to cut the heroin with the powerful painkiller Fentanyl, an opiate 100 times stronger than morphine, which has been found to be the cause of multiple overdoses and deaths over recent years. The Fentanyl outbreak became so bad that local police agencies and paramedics started equipping themselves with a new drug called Naloxone. Naloxone is injected into someone suffering from an opiate overdose to revive them.  According to research, Fentanyl related deaths skyrocketed in 2014 to the point where the Center for Disease Control stepped in to issue a nationwide warning about the drug.

The effort to make people aware of the Fentanyl laced heroin and the Naloxone medication both seem to be working but the problem is still dire. Just this year, in August, Cincinnati experienced a string of 174 overdoses in just 2 days. The drug that was causing the overdoses was heroin, and it was cut with something even stronger than Fentanyl. The drug is called Carfentanil, which is normally used to tranquillize elephants and other big animals. According to CNN, Carfentanil is 10,000 times stronger than Moprhine. Cincinnati public officials said the string of 174 overdoses in such a short period of time is unprecedented.

Dealers are increasingly cutting heroin with more powerful opiates to make the effects even stronger and this kind of unregulated dealing is putting thousands of people at risk. Every time someone buys heroin and uses it, they are gambling with their lives. You do not know what the heroin is mixed with, and one dose of Carfentanil or Fentanyl is enough to kill.

Meanwhile, citizens around the United States are petitioning for the legalisation of 'soft drugs' such as marijuana. Image Credit: Tony Webster
Meanwhile, citizens around the United States are petitioning for the legalisation of ‘soft drugs’ such as marijuana. Image Credit: Tony Webster

A bleak future

After 16 years into the 21st century, it is clear that America has a serious drug problem on its hands. Treatment centers have been struggling to effectively treat their patients, in some areas there simply are not enough facilities or not enough resources to treat the amount of people who need help. Some opiate or heroin addicts cannot receive proper addiction treatment because of financial issues. Local law enforcement, politicians and community leaders have been fighting back to take a stand against heroin, but the problem seems here to stay.


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