Fentanyl is a powerful opioid that is often mixed with heroin. Known for its immediate, dramatic high, the drug is powerful enough to be used as an elephant tranquilizer in some forms. Experts state that fentanyl can be ten times as strong as heroin, proving an alluring choice for individuals seeking an extreme high.
The recent fentanyl epidemic has hit several cities hard throughout the sunshine state. Southern Florida has been especially affected, with Palm Beach County taking the lead in fentanyl-related mortality since 2014. But other areas are being effected as well, and Broward County’s Chief Medical Examiner spoke recently of the toll this outbreak has taken on his community, citing several shocking statistics his office has reported for the first quarter of 2016 in Broward County alone:
- 20 heroin deaths
- 28 fentanyl deaths, five of which occurred on a single day in February, with the deceased found with needles still piercing their arms
- 20 deaths caused by a combination of the two opiates
- If deaths from heroin and fentanyl abuse continue to escalate at their current rate, Boward County will see a rise from 159 deaths in 2015 to an estimated 272 in 2016
These sobering statistics point to the growing need for resources to aid individuals suffering from opioid dependence and to alert the general public to the severity of this crisis. Further, the spike in fentanyl-related deaths in the state of Florida is not an isolated incident. The mounting evidence of skyrocketing fentanyl abuse occurring in places like Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Miami and Orlando mimic those seen in cities throughout the country.
Why is There a Rise in Fentanyl Abuse?
Public health officials have stated that the current fentanyl abuse crisis has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. Places such as southern Florida are reporting an acute rise in fentanyl-related deaths, so much so that emergency responders are now carrying carry naloxone, a drug designed to counteract fatal heroin overdoses with them on a daily basis.
So why now? Fentanyl is not a new drug, and as the strongest prescription painkiller available, it has been prescribed to individuals facing severe pain due to physical ailments such as cancer for many years. Typically dispensed in a lozenge or time-release form, the drug has been provided comfort to many in times of acute suffering.
But while it may seem that the rise in illegal fentanyl use has appeared out of nowhere, many addictions specialists cite recent government crackdowns on prescription painkillers as a significant contributor to the rise in fentanyl abuse. In the last several decades many men and women developed a dependence on prescription painkillers of all kinds, and the damaging effects of this surge of drug abuse has been well documented.
To combat this dilemma, more restrictions have been put in place to make obtaining these drugs illegally more difficult, causing many opioid dependent individuals to seek a high through other means.
Fentanyl Abuse Can Lead to Heroin Use
When a person who had been abusing prescription painkillers can no longer obtain his or her drug of choice, heroin is often sought as a replacement. While most individuals do not go out in search of fentanyl as a means to get high, they often first experience the drug when it is mixed with heroin without their knowledge. This deadly combination offers an incredibly potent high, but because fentanyl’s effects are instant, many who overdose do so almost immediately.
When individuals start experimenting with heroin / fentanyl combinations they are at immensely elevated risk for overdose. This is due to the fact that they cannot ever truly be sure what they are ingesting due to the unregulated nature of the drugs. A person who abuses heroin may take a certain dose regularly, and while still a dangerous behavior, if he or she unintentionally uses heroin that has been laced with fentanyl, the results can be fatal.
A Mislabeled Problem
One of the most insidious factors in the current fentanyl epidemic is related to the mislabeling of other substances of abuse. Aside from the fact that heroin is now often being mixed with fentanyl without users’ knowledge, other drugs containing fentanyl are being labeled as other commonly abused drugs.
For example, a person might take a pill labeled as Xanax, a drug they may take regularly and therefore have experience with. But currently drugs containing fentanyl are being mislabeled so that users have no idea of the content, and instead mistakenly assume the drug is no different what its label suggests. This unfortunate misrepresentation has been the cause of countless unintentional overdoses by individuals who had no idea they were ingesting fentanyl.
About The Wellness Center
Located in picturesque Boca Raton, Florida, The Wellness Center offers a tranquil environment in which men and women can work to overcome addictions of all kinds. We offer comprehensive residential treatment for individuals suffering from opioid dependence and more, and augment these services with programming designed to address any co-occurring disorders that may be present. To learn more about the many individualized options for care at the Wellness Center, we urge you to contact us at your earliest convenience.