70,000 people died in the United States in 2017 from opioid abuse. Opioids are a type of drug that bind to opioid receptors which in turn block us from feeling pain and consequently bring a sense of satisfaction and contentment.
As a consequence of these receptors being blocked, a cluster of neurons in the pons called the pre-Bötzinger complex which are responsible for detecting carbon-monoxide levels in your blood, become inactive. This type of chemical desensitisation then leads to respiratory failure from either not enough oxygen or too much carbon dioxide in your blood. In any event, this leads to certain death if untreated. This is how Mac Miller died.
A recent study of 700 visits to a psychiatric ED for US veterans, showed 14% of them testing positive for fentanyl — but 21% of these patients reported no opioid exposure. Unfortunately, further tests suggested fentanyl was being mixed with heroin and other substances like cocaine and marijuana.
As the opioid crisis continues to engulf the United States and trickle into other countries, it seems drug users need to be aware that their drugs may be contaminated with fentanyl. This becomes even more necessary, when you realise that fentanyl is fifty times stronger than heroin.
However, much of this cross-contamination appears to be localised to low socio-economic areas rather than higher-end regions. Opioid overdoses are strongly correlated with economic inequality, low education levels, long term addiction and homelessness with most fentanyl related deaths occurring in already-dysfunctional communities.
Data from examinations of the drugs themselves further alludes to a sense of division being present in the conversation about fentanyl poisoning. Forensic investigations by the DEA into 30,914 intercepted cocaine supplies revealed that only 214 samples contained fentanyl. Conversely, of 34,000 seized fentanyl samples, only 1.4% contained cocaine. To then declare that drugs such as cocaine or marijuana are laced with fentanyl would appear to be an overstep.
It’s unfortunate that during a time when Americans need precise information to confront the ever-inflating opioid epidemic, there exists this fog of misinformation that’s infecting our attention. Regardless, even if the probability of fentanyl being mixed with other drugs is low, users should be aware of what to do — and that is simply naloxone.