3 Ways to Solve the Worldwide Opioid Crisis
Living in the darkness, surrounded by filth and loneliness, is how most people imagine drug addicts. Their figures are always abstract and warped, hidden from view. Any association with “normal people’s” lives is removed, and they are labelled simply as “addicts.”
However, addiction affects everyone, and with the COVID-19 pandemic causing overdose rates to skyrocket, more and more people will find themselves losing family and friends to a health crisis no one wants to talk about.
So let's talk about it.
Drug overdoses happen when a toxic amount of drugs overwhelm your body. Each drug acts differently and has different ways to be ingested. They can get snorted, injected, swallowed, or inhaled through eye drops, needles, joints, bongs, powders, pills, vapes or a variety of other objects.
And in the last few decades, those drugs have become mixed. Drugs with low toxicity in comparison, like marijuana, have been laced with higher toxicity drugs, like fentanyl.
Mixing drugs like this is dangerous. Without the knowledge of what they are taking, people can accidentally ingest a dose of their drug of choice with a much higher toxicity level than they expect, leading to their body not being able to handle it.
An example of where this is extremely prevalent is in Canada, a country with sprawling natural beauty and one of the highest overdose rates in the world.
Canada's third-largest province, British Columbia, declared a public health state of emergency back in 2016 when overdose rates shot up due to the widespread lacing of fentanyl in marijuana. Since then, BC has continuously recorded the highest number of deaths due to overdose of any province in Canada.
With people taking drugs alone in their own homes more now than ever, the dangers of overdosing have soared.
In 2019, BC recorded 744 overdoses. In 2020? There were 1516 overdoses.
People turned to drugs as a form of escape or to cope with the stress brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, but in many cases, it ended up taking their lives.
The United States is facing a similar problem. In the US, there were 81,000 drug overdose deaths from May 2019 to May 2020. A 20% increase from the previous record for the most overdose deaths in 12 months, according to provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
While the number of overdoses in the US was increasing year over year before 2020, the start of the US COVID-19 response saw a jump in overdose rates much higher than the years before.
The group of people hit by this wave of overdoses the hardest was people who already struggle with addiction.
As explained by CDC Director Robert Redfield, M.D.: “The disruption to daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those with substance use disorder hard. As we continue the fight to end this pandemic, it’s important to not lose sight of different groups being affected in other ways. We need to take care of people suffering from unintended consequences.”
Dying from an overdose is not the intention of a teen swallowing a pill at a party, nor is it the intention of someone lighting up a joint from a new supplier in their garage, but it happens. And one of the main reasons why is because of synthetic opioids.
Synthetic opioids have increased in popularity over the last few years due to their cheap production costs and high potency.
They, most commonly fentanyl, are an easy drug to mix with others, as they can make marijuana more potent and addictive and cocaine cheaper when used as a filler.
However, fentanyl, a drug similar to morphine but about 100 times more potent, can be fatal in doses as small as 2 mg. With such high toxicity, an illegal supplier adding too much to a pill or joint is almost certain to happen.
This increased toxicity is one of the reasons why opioids are the primary reason for the increase in overdose deaths. A number that has increased 38.4% from the 12 months leading up to June 2019 when compared to the 12 months leading up to May 2020.
According to the CDC, during this same period:
- "37 of the 38 U.S. jurisdictions with available synthetic opioid data reported increases in synthetic opioid-involved overdose deaths."
- "18 of these jurisdictions reported increases greater than 50 percent."
- "10 western states reported over a 98 percent increase in synthetic opioid-involved deaths."
Overdoses involving cocaine were also up by 26.5%, along with methamphetamine, which increased by 34.5%. Both drugs whose deaths are, according to CDC research, "likely linked to co-use or contamination of cocaine with illicitly manufactured fentanyl or heroin."
With so many deaths attributed to opioids, we need to help the people most at risk of an overdose.
There are several ways we can do that.
Firstly, we need to increase access to essential services for people who are at risk of an overdose.
Secondly, we need to expand the use of Naloxone and educate people on overdose prevention.
And thirdly, we need to improve our detection of overdose outbreaks so that help can reach patients faster.
While doing each of these things might not eliminate overdoses, it will lower the number of them each and every year.
The mental health of your friends, your family, and you, matters. And it’s about time worldwide governments started acting like it.