The Opioid Epidemic: Drug-Related Deaths Continue To Climb, Trump Calls For Harsher Sentencing For Drug Offenses
The most recent data on drug overdoses released by the government reveals that in 2016, the number of drug-related deaths continued to surge despite efforts to curb the opioid crisis.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the estimated fatalities for the first three quarters of 2016 were higher than for the same period of 2015, which at the time, was the highest year on record (more than 52,400.) Of those, 33,000 deaths were attributed to prescription painkillers or illicit opioids such as fentanyl and heroin.
In the third quarter of 2016, drug-related deaths peaked at nearly 20 cases for every 100,000 persons, up from 16.7 from the third quarter of 2015. The first quarter of 2016 increased from 16.3 to 18.9, and the second quarter increased from 16.2 to 19.3.
Despite the increase, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who publishes the data, does not consider the first two quarters as being significantly different from the same period in 2015.
Still another study, conducted by researchers at the University of Virginia and published recently in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, found that the number of opioid-related drug overdoses in 2014 in the United States was likely underestimated by 24%, and heroin by 22%.
Fentanyl And Carfentanil – The Deadliest Drugs on the Planet?
While the number of overdoses related to prescription drugs appears to be tapering off, overdoses related to illicit drugs have been spiking. This fact is largely due to the presence of powerful synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and U-47700, which are increasingly found cut into heroin, unbeknownst to the user.
Dealers use fentanyl and other designer drugs to buffer their product and increase profits. Fentanyl is inexpensive, and a little bit goes a long way.
Of note, fentanyl is the drug that killed the artist Prince last year. It is believed that he took the drug in the form of a tablet that he thought to be hydrocodone.
Fentanyl is roughly 50 times more powerful than heroin and is so potent, that medical professionals and law enforcement who are exposed to it often have to wear protective gear to avoid incidental contact.
The anti-overdose drug naloxone can be effective to reverse a life-threatening overdose, but in the case of fentanyl and carfentanil, several administrations may be required, and then sometimes even that isn’t enough.
Carfentanil, a drug many times more powerful than fentanyl itself is not as prevalent as its weaker cousin but has also been responsible for a number of deaths, particularly in Ohio last year. Carfentanil is a large animal tranquilizer and is not indicated for use in humans.
President Trump’s Briefing, More In Politics
President Donald Trump, who has oft been criticized for avoiding discussion on the epidemic since the election, spoke with reporters today at his private club in Bedminster, New Jersey, where he was undergoing a briefing on the nation’s opioid crisis from Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price:
“At the end of 2016, there were 23% fewer federal prosecutions than in 2011, so they looked at this scourge and they let it go by. We’re not letting it go by.”
“The average sentence for a convicted federal drug offender decreased 20 percent from 2009 to 2016.”
Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced that he was deploying federal prosecutors to several cities most affected by drug abuse to investigate drug crimes.
This administration’s approach appears to be in contrast to that of President Barack Obama, which was to reduce sentences for non-violent drug-related offenses.
Also last week, the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced a series of recommendations focused on treatment to fight addiction and the regulation of prescription opioids to prevent misuse.
The Commission also asked Trump to “declare a national emergency under either the Public Health Service Act or the Stafford Act.”
On Sunday, Gov. Christie said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the opioid crisis is the cause of “9/11-scale loss of life every three weeks” and “If that’s not a national health emergency, I don’t know what is.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 52,000 people died in 2015 due to substance-related overdoses. Of those, more than 33,000 were related to prescription painkillers or illicit opioids or opiates such as fentanyl and heroin.
The CDC also estimates that around two million in the United States are currently addicted to prescription opioids. Past use of prescription opioids is the biggest predictor of initiating heroin use. At least three of four new heroin users state they first began their habit after becoming addicted to prescription painkillers.
Indeed, from 2014-2015, drug-related deaths involving heroin increased by more than 20%.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology