Drug overdoses have skyrocketed in the last few years. One of the main culprits of drug overdoses is fentanyl (see cover story), and opioids which have flooded the streets as the crisis spreads well beyond the rural, largely White communities that initially drew attention.
The spread into Black and Brown communities has escalated the death rate in these areas by double compared to White communities.
“To understand how we got to this point, we have to look at the origin story of the opioid epidemic as 200 people die from overdoses every day on average.” Scott Higham, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for the Washington Post said. “Drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 18-41, which is shocking.”
During a recent online event, Highman spoke about the history of oxycodone and its connection with Purdue Pharmacy. The company played a role in the opioid crisis, as it aggressively and deceptively marketed its painkillers while downplaying the risks of overdosing and its addictive potential.
The CDC has reported that from 1999 to 2018, over 750,000 people have died, with two out of three overdose deaths involving an opioid.
“Many companies saw what Purdue Pharmacy was doing and took that formula and started mass producing far more dangerous drugs than Purdue ever could, which has led to the over stockpile of opioids in pharmacies,” Highman said as he described what came next after companies took advantage of the crisis. “Mallinckrodt, a pharmaceutical company, began manufacturing a 30mg blue pill, equal to a hit of heroin, that became the most popular pill in American black markets.”
This pill became so popular that it caught the attention of the Mexican cartel and the Chinese mafia as they were trying to smuggle drugs into the USA. They had found difficulties, as heroin wasn’t as popular as before, and thought about pills once the opioid explosion on the east coast caught their attention.
This led to their manufacturing versions of fentanyl as it was an easier drug to create and ship because both parties learned how to mimic the look of Mallinckrodt blue pill, which was moving at an exceptional rate in the US.
Magdalena Cerdá, a professor of population health and director of the Center for Opioid Epidemiology and Policy at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, spoke about the few things people who take drugs can do to keep them safe.
“The focus was originally to regulate opioid prescription and tighten up the number of opioids released, but now that has shifted because the cause of the crisis stems from illegal drugs,” Cerdá said as she described the different policies in place to combat the crisis. “It’s two areas our focus has been urgently placed, that’s on harm reduction, which uses evidence-based treatment for opioid users, and using the Good Samaritan law.”
The harm reduction policy is about supporting the user and reminding them that they’re in a safe and loving environment. The policy would also give information on places that distribute naloxone. Naloxone is a medication used for emergency treatment of known or suspected opioid overdose.
Another solution Cerdá offered is the acknowledgment and increase in the use of the Good Samaritan Law, as it allows people to report overdoses of any drug and not face criminal charges for the use or distribution of the drug. The law is subject to terms & conditions in every state and it is recommended to research who or what is protected under the law.