Drug overdoses vs car crashes vs gun deaths: And the winner is?
The elephant in the room here is the FDA. Yep, Oxycontin and the other array of powerful opioids were developed only for post surgical pain. Somehow or other, with zero testing or clinical trials the inept dirtbags at the FDA allowed Purdue and other manufs to shift and prescribe this stuff indefinitely for chronic pain...increasing the market for the stuff 100x. Do they normal allow drugs to be repurposed like this without comprehensive testing? NO! Should you smell a rat? Hmmmmm
A rising death toll
Drug overdoses now kill more than 100,000 Americans a year — more than vehicle crash and gun deaths combined.
Sean Blake was among those who died. He overdosed at age 27 in Vermont, from a mix of alcohol and fentanyl, a synthetic opioid. He had struggled to find effective treatment for his addiction and other potential mental health problems, repeatedly relapsing.
“I do love being sober,” Blake wrote in 2014, three years before his death. “It’s life that gets in the way.”
Blake’s struggles reflect the combination of problems that have allowed the overdose crisis to fester. First, the supply of opioids surged. Second, Americans have insufficient access to treatment and other programs that can ease the worst damage of drugs.
Experts have a concise, if crude, way to summarize this: If it’s easier to get high than to get treatment, people who are addicted will get high. The U.S. has effectively made it easy to get high and hard to get help.
No other advanced nation is dealing with a comparable drug crisis. And over the past two years, it has worsened: Annual overdose deaths spiked 50 percent as fentanyl spread in illegal markets, more people turned to drugs during the pandemic, and treatment facilities and other services shut down.
The path to crisis
In the 1990s, drug companies promoted opioid painkillers as a solution to a problem that remains today: a need for better pain treatment. Purdue Pharma led the charge with OxyContin, claiming it was more effective and less addictive than it was.
Doctors bought into the hype, and they started to more loosely prescribe opioids. Some even operated “pill mills,” trading prescriptions for cash.
A growing number of people started to misuse the drugs, crushing or dissolving the pills to inhale or inject them. Many shared, stole and sold opioids more widely.
Policymakers and drug companies were slow to react. It wasn’t until 2010 that Purdue introduced a new formulation that made its pills harder to misuse. The C.D.C. didn’t publish guidelines calling for tighter prescribing practices until two decades after OxyContin hit the market.
In the meantime, the crisis deepened: Opioid users moved on to more potent drugs, namely heroin. Some were seeking a stronger high, while others were cut off from painkillers and looking for a replacement.
Traffickers met that demand by flooding the U.S. with heroin. Then, in the 2010s, they started to transition to fentanyl, mixing it into heroin and other drugs or selling it on its own.
Drug cartels can more discreetly produce fentanyl in a lab than heroin derived from large, open poppy fields. Fentanyl is also more potent than heroin, so traffickers can smuggle less to sell the same high.
Because of its potency, fentanyl is also more likely to cause an overdose. Since it began to proliferate in the U.S., yearly overdose deaths have more than doubled.
No one has a good answer for how to halt the spread of fentanyl. Synthetic drugs in general remain a major, unsolved question not just in the current opioid epidemic but in dealing with future drug crises as well, Keith Humphreys, a Stanford University drug policy expert, told me.
Other drug crises are looming. In recent years, cocaine and meth deaths have also increased. Humphreys said that historically, stimulant epidemics follow opioid crises.