Much is said about the opioid epidemic and how it is a crisis sweeping the nation. All data confirms the truth of this, but the conversation about the mechanics of the opioid epidemic is rarely more than surface deep, with the same talking points and lamentations repeated. Over and over.
In short, this is what the opioid epidemic looks like in the abstract:
Of particular interest to anyone with an iota of experience in reading graphs should be the “other synthetic opioids” component of that graph. That is what exponential growth looks like, and when we’re talking about the making of an epidemic, an exponential increase in death is exactly the culprit. From 2014 to 2015 alone, deaths involving fentanyl in the United States rose by 72%. That’s a 72% increase in one year, and if you look at the above chart again, you can see that the curve got even steeper between 2015 and 2016.
We all understand how this has happened. Nobody is out there trying to buy fentanyl. Fentanyl is showing up, completely uninvited, to everyone’s party. It is showing up in every drug — not just opioids — because it is cheap and easy to produce, and it only takes a tiny amount (micrograms, in some cases) to produce an effect. It is the perfect cutting agent for drugs from the eyes of a drug dealer looking to turn a profit, but because the therapeutic window of fentanyl is so narrow, and because many street-level drug distributors are not, in fact, Ph.D. chemists or trained pharmacists, the inevitable human error that enters into the cutting process leads to drugs that are lethal when taken in doses to which recreational users are accustomed. And this is especially the case when users have no idea that fentanyl is being added to their drugs and don’t know to be on the lookout for it. Nobody 10 or 20 years ago would have taken a hit of crystal meth and expected it to be cut with fentanyl, and a great many users still don’t. But it’s in the supply, and it doesn’t always mix safely with other drugs, which only compounds its lethality.
Because of the way drug overdoses are reported, and because of the recent surge in the prevalence of fentanyl relative to the lifetime of heroin use in the United States, many overdoses attributed to heroin (or non-opiates like cocaine or methamphetamine) were actually due to fentanyl. So let’s call this thing by its name: the fentanyl epidemic. Yes, some other, less common synthetic opioids contribute, but fentanyl (which comes in many varieties) is the primary culprit.
People familiar with the absolute moral bankruptcy of the War on Drugs and the United States prison industrial complex, coupled with a healthcare system that incentivizes doctors getting people habituated to using opiate painkillers, with a hefty dose of general ennui thrown in understand how drug statistics emerge. Drug users are not terrible people. They are just people looking for some fun or escapism. In some cases they are looking for some pain relief and simply cannot afford healthcare. Only a tiny percentage are interested in exploring the line between life and death. Almost none of them are trying to die by way of a drug they didn’t even know was in the product they were using.
Everyone familiar with this also knows that justice is not coming. Certainly not on any grand scale that can combat an epidemic. Certainly not from the federal government we have. Certainly not from the law enforcement paradigms under which we operate. Perhaps at your local level you can find a way to make a difference, but the outlook for the people of the United States is grim and points to a continuing epidemic where a disenfranchised people die at an escalating rate.
All I can say to that is try not be a statistic. Do not trust the drugs you buy, regardless of the source (do you really trust pharmaceutical companies? I don’t). Whether they come from the hospital, from your neighbor, or from someone down the street, you owe it to yourself if you want to continue living to take a moment to make sure you are getting what you want and nothing more — and especially no fentanyl. There is no guaranteed way to avoid fentanyl, but you can take measures to give yourself the best chance of not getting blindsided by this drug additive you almost certainly did not ask for.
The cheapest, most convenient, and easiest-to-use method I know of is fentanyl test strips, which can be purchased many places online. Even stodgy outfits like Amazon sell fentanyl test kits. If your product is tainted, do not use it. If you’re skilled enough to learn how to clean your goods up and eliminate the fentanyl, great, but the most important part is do not use anything with fentanyl in it. Even adjusting your dose is dangerous, because it’s not easy to determine exactly what kind of fentanyl was used or exactly how much is present, and remember that we already know it has a very narrow therapeutic window. A small miscalculation is the difference between life and death.
This is the real War on Drugs that you can participate in and actually feel good about — the War on Fentanyl. Do not be a casualty. Fight back against its encroachment and do not contribute one dime to suppliers who include it in their products. Boycotts work! Demand the best from your opioid providers.