Fentanyl and the Opioid Epidemic

The Opioid epidemic ravishing the youth of this country has taken a turn for the worse in the last two years. Overdose rates have increased in men and women of all ethnicities, starting as young as age 15. In 2015, 33,091 individuals died of a fatal opioid overdose and that number has been rising among the 15-24 age group since then. Now, the biggest problem has become fentanyl, a mass marketed painkiller that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin. In New Jersey, $1.67 million was paid by pharmaceutical companies to push fentanyl between 2013 and 2015.

The path to opioid addiction has changed in recent years. Originally, most people thought heroin was a drug that only affected the bottom tier of society, and that it would never make its way to suburbia unless an individual became involved in other “gateway drugs”. This is no longer the case. The accessibility of painkillers such as OxyContin beginning in the 1990s brought opioids into ordinary households all over the country. Doctors would prescribe them for chronic pain, as a wonderdrug giving individuals dealing with such pain a chance to take their lives back. OxyCotin would go on to ruin the lives of many who were prescribed the drug, as it is chemically addictive, affecting the human neurological system in a similar destructive manner as heroin does. The problem in the households intensified when the children and grandchildren of people who were prescribed opioids would have easy access to the drugs. Opioid addiction happens fast. A person is usually chemically addicted to the opioid within a month of taking the drugs. While dangerous, prescription painkillers usually aren’t what kills opioid users. Given the expense of prescription drugs, users turn to heroin, a drug that is significantly cheaper than pills and works faster. Thus, heroin addiction has made its way into American households. Addiction has risen almost 500% in the last seven years.

Enter fentanyl. The FDA has begun to recognize the problem with opiate painkillers and has increased regulations. Drug companies have made the drugs “safer”, or manufactured them in modes that are less easy to abuse. However, Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are on the rise. Fentanyl was marketed as a drug useful to managing pain for cancer patients. Despite the representations made about the drug, it has made its way to mainstream America, famously killing Prince in April of 2016. Overdoses have risen dramatically over this period. Users will purchase the narcotics, thinking that they are buying heroin and will take a dose in based on the heroin they are used to using. However, they cannot handle that particular dose of Fentanyl, leading to an overdose.

Legally, opiate addiction tough to handle. The general consensus has moved from a punishment approach to a treatment based approach. North Carolina has Drug Treatment Courts in their counties, offering special kinds of probation to drug offenders that require that they obtain treatment and refrain from activities that feed their addiction. As for the addicts who do not enter such a program, their chances of breaking their addiction are slim. Only one in ten individuals with an opiate addiction seek treatment for their addiction. As a result, people living in America are more likely to be killed by an opiate overdose than by drugs or guns.

The biggest problem is that there are people who legitimately need opioids to manage their chronic pain. Whether there are better methods of controlling the flow of these prescription drugs into households or better medical ways of treating chronic pain is not really a question of legal expertise. What the best legal advice would be is if you are an individual who is prescribed opiate painkillers, make sure to keep track of your intake and that you are the only person taking your painkillers. If one of your loved ones becomes addicted, legal trouble or death seem to be the only next steps. This epidemic is a real problem, but it could be stemmed at least a little bit by the actions people who are getting the prescriptions. We know firsthand what happens to opioid addicts in the legal system. Don’t let yourself or your loved ones become victims of opioid addiction.