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Fighting Opioid Battle on Two Fronts

The Boston Globe recently published an article breaking down the dynamic and complex nature fueling the nation’s increase in opioid and opiate outbreaks. The article explains how the blanket term, opioid is a euphemism obscuring the true plight at hand. The reality is Americans are being attacked on two fronts one from the deadly drug heroin and the other from its infinitely various derivatives like Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin among a dizzying array of others. These two subsets of the drug market kill in different way and affect different demographics in certain regions of the country.

In 1999-2019 the first wave of opioid epidemics came and skyrocketed the amount of addicts and overdose deaths to astronomical heights. The basic takeaway and consensus regarding this time was that these cases were characterized by the incoming wave of new pharmaceuticals designed to treat the overwhelming demand for pain medication that was actually effective. The impact was immediate and the country would be hooked and a subsequent crackdown by law enforcement took place in order to quell the mania. The next period from 2010-2014 would also see an increase in opioid deaths but now from not only prescription drugs but also heroin. As the country became more vigilant and required more transparency between patient doctor prescription history records people sought their drugs in the streets and in the form of heroin. To make matters worse much of this heroin was cut with synthetic highly potent analogs of heroin like fentanyl.

Fentanyl overdoses have become a major concern all their own. This period was epitomized by a reintroduction of heroin from the streets along with the same problems brought by prescription big pharmaceutical drugs. The distinct bifurcation of this epidemic has also left a unique imprint on age and gender groups within the United States. Most prescription overdoses have affected a slightly older demographic between the ages of 45-64. Heroin has been the prefered drug by the younger 25-34 cohort with an especial affinity towards men as opposed to women. Women were more likely to overdose or become addicted to prescription medication rather than heroin. Kevin Gabbert from the Iowa Department of Health went on to say the following with regards to heroin: “It may not be as significant as what you’re seeing in the eastern part of the country, but the rate of increase has been substantial, in the course of five days in early April, there were five overdose deaths in the eastern part of the state, and heroin is among the drugs suspected to be involved.”

So far the geographic implications have been concentrated mostly in the eastern part of the country especially in New England, but were bound to see that change. It already appears that its influence has proliferated in neighboring parts of the country and beyond. The CDC went on to say that the death toll is probably much worse than the figures illustrate. The way certain states and regions observe and tabulate their data is sometimes skewed and belies the true extent of the damage, giving a false sense of security. The one thing that is for certain is that the problem seems to be getting much worse.