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Number of opioid-related deaths on the rise in the US

By Christina Uptain & Brandon Williams
On November 30, 2017

One of the legal pharmaceutical products with fentanyl. 
Creative commons photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Since the late 1990s, opioid use has been on the rise in the U.S. and Canada. Currently, continuing and increased use of both prescription and non-prescription opioids have been dubbed an epidemic as well as a national health concern by the current government administration in the United States.

According to an article published Sept. 2, 2017, in the New York Times, “Drug deaths involving fentanyl more than doubled from 2015 to 2016, accompanied by an upturn in deaths involving cocaine and methamphetamine.”

There has been widespread impact of drug abuse to people of all backgrounds from the average family member to the rich and famous, such as Michael Jackson.

Major concerns revolving this powerful substance are understandable. According to the CDC, "Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and is a fast-acting analgesic primarily associated with the treatment of acute and chronic pain associated to advanced stages of cancer." 

Because it is a synthetic drug, fentanyl can be produced at a low cost and can be found in a variety of forms including pharmaceutical production of transdermal patches, lozenges, nasal sprays and tablets as well as non-pharmaceuticals through the illicit drug market, according to the CDC.

In March 2015, the DEA classified fentanyl as a threat to public health and safety and was followed up with data in the DEA National Heroin Threat Assessment Summary in which data was provided about increase in deaths related to fentanyl mainly coming from mixtures with other illicit drugs with and without the user’s knowledge.

While Midwest living is commonly thought of as a slower pace and better quality of life, even Iowa is not immune from the harsh effects of fentanyl. The death numbers are small however neighboring Illinois has seen a drastic increase over the last few years. 

The CDC cites synthetic opioid overdose numbers in Iowa as almost doubling in one year with "29 deaths in 2014 then increasing to 44 in 2015." In comparison, Illinois saw a significant increase in deaths with "127 in 2014 and 278 in 2015."

The report from the DEA also stated the “true number [of deaths] is most likely higher because many coroners’ offices and state crime laboratories do not test for fentanyl or its analogs unless given a specific reason to do so.” There is also concern of exposure to health care and law enforcement workers.

While Iowa may not be one of the top states for reported deaths and seizure of the drug, the states of Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio were in the top 10 in 2015 and are proximally close to home. 

Anne Clinton, counseling service coordinator at Kirkwood Community College, said she would like to remind students that confidential counseling services are available for a variety of needs, including drug abuse. “We offer a starting point for those not sure where to go as well as counseling services. The opioid epidemic in the U.S. is real and it can seem overwhelming for many.”

She added, “Even for our students who are not local, we encourage anyone to contact us to open the channel of communication as soon as possible. We have a wide range of resources both on and off campus so no one has to feel alone when dealing with something as severe as opioid addiction.”

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