Bleak new estimates in drug epidemic: a record 72,000 overdose deaths in 2017

“Even when you think you’re doing better,  all it takes is one bad batch of fentanyl in any state and you’re going to have deaths,” said Mark Levine, a physician and the health commissioner of Vermont, which has made major investments in addiction treatment but still experienced a spike in deaths in 2016. Last year, deaths fell slightly there.

The number of opioid users has been going up “in most places, but not at this exponential rate,” said Brandon Marshall, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Brown University School of Public Health. “The dominant factor is the changing drug supply.” Strong synthetic opioids like fentanyl and its analogues have become mixed into black-market supplies of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and the class of anti-anxiety medicines known as benzodiazepines. Unlike heroin, which is derived from poppy plants, fentanyl can be manufactured in a laboratory, and it is often easier to transport because it is more concentrated. Unexpected combinations of those drugs can overwhelm even experienced drug users. In some places, the type of synthetic drugs mixed into heroin changes often, increasing the risk for users. While the opioid epidemic was originally concentrated in rural, white populations, the death toll is becoming more widespread. The penetration of fentanyl into more heroin markets may explain recent increases in overdose deaths among older, urban black Americans; those who used heroin before the recent changes to the drug supply might be unprepared for the strength of the new mixtures.

Original Article (New York Times):
 Bleak New Estimates in Drug Epidemic: A Record 72,000 Overdose Deaths in 2017
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