How the Opioid Epidemic Continues to Evolve

Opioid abuse, dependence, and addiction have risen to epidemic proportions across our country, and if that fact isn’t alarming enough there is the additional fact that this epidemic continues to evolve, claiming more and more lives even as health professionals, government officials, and law enforcement struggle to thwart it. This can lead one to wonder if the epidemic can actually be stopped.

Understanding the Opioid Epidemic

In order to understand the ever-evolving opioid epidemic, and therefore what could be done to stop it, one must first understand how opioid use becomes opioid abuse, dependence, and addiction. All drugs are chemical substances that interact with the body in order to suppress undesirable symptoms and heighten desirable sensations. One could argue that certain drug substances have limited usefulness, as in the case of painkillers that make surgery possible or drugs that reduce inflammation so that the body can better health from injury. However, when an individual uses drugs on a regular and continuing basis, either because they do not know how to resolve the underlying problem or because they feel that they cannot resolve the underlying problem, they can quickly fall into the cycle of drug abuse, dependence, and addiction. The individual begins to rely upon the drug as the solution to their problem, and over time their body becomes convinced of this as well. If the drug is incredibly potent and addictive like opioids are, the individual may not only become entirely dependent upon and addicted to these substances, they are often willing to do anything to continue obtaining and using them.

Opioid drugs are those drug substances that bind to and interact with opioid receptors in the brain and body in order to block the body’s communication of pain. Some commonly recognized opioid drugs include the illicit drug heroin, as well as prescription pain relievers oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, fentanyl, and many other chemically related drugs. These are some of the most potent and addictive drug substances currently in existence and can lead to dependence, addiction, and fatal overdose even when initially used exactly as prescribed.

Like other drug substances, opioids can become tolerated by the body–at which point they no longer create the same, desired effects. This is one of the key factors that lead to opioid abuse, as the individual will take even more opioids, or stronger opioids, in order to experience the same desirable effects they once did. And herein lies the answer to why the opioid epidemic is and continues to evolve–manufacturers and dealers are flooding the market with increasingly potent opioid drug substances, driving up a tolerance, dependence, and addiction. Even those individuals who recognize that opioid use is harming them are often powerless against the urge to keep using these potent substances, especially when withdrawal is so daunting to consider.

The Evolving Opioid Problem

In Erie County, Michigan, there is evidence of a pattern that is unfolding across the entire nation–specifically street opioids of increasingly dangerous potencies. Alan Rozansky, the Chief of Narcotics in the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, has stated that they are finding heroin laced with fentanyl, pure fentanyl, and cocaine during drug raids. The Erie County Narcotics Unit has conducted at least five drug raids over the past three months, and they have seized kilos of cocaine, heroin, and fentanyl just within the past six months. But even as more and more drugs are seized off the streets, more and more drugs take their place, and their increasing potency is nothing short of alarming. Where heroin may have once dominated the opioid market on the streets, it now only makes up about twenty-three percent of the cases there. Fentanyl and other more potent drugs are beginning to take over. Newest on the scene is carfentanil, which is ten thousand times more potent than morphine and is normally used as an elephant tranquilizer. Opioid addicts who purchase street opioids and have no way to know what they are buying or how potent it is can easily overdose on just a poppy seed-size dose of this powerful synthetic opioid.

Fighting the Epidemic

Drug raids that end in drug seizures and arrests are most certainly an important part of fighting back against the opioid epidemic, but the unfortunate fact is that there are always new drug manufacturers and dealers willing to step up and continue the pattern. This means that educating the general public in the truth about opioids, their dangers and the invisible increasing potency of street opioids, as well as providing effective treatment for individuals who suffer from opioid abuse and addiction, is critical to fighting the epidemic at the source.

If you or someone you know is suffering from opioid abuse or addiction, call 877-779-8110 for immediate help and support.

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