Substance Abuse: The ‘New Wave’ Opiod Epidemic

I vividly remember when I first began working in the field of mental health and substance abuse in the early 1970’s. Our Nation was in the middle of the “Cultural Revolution” and the “Drug Revolution,” a beginning wave of devastation from licit and illicit substances; alcohol abuse, marijuana use, heroin, toxic inhalant use, etc.

Much of my counseling and research efforts during that period were centered on young people, from pre-teen through around age 25; and much of that was concerned with the wave of toxic inhalant abuse; “huffing;” so much so that I completed my Doctoral Dissertation on the subject… research completed through studies of toxic inhalant use along the Texas-Mexico border from El Paso to Brownsville.

I witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of this practice, the deaths of our young people engaged in the purposeful inhalation of spray paint and other chemicals. Our “War on Drugs” was just beginning, and as predicted the problems associated with the use and abuse of chemical substances by our youth was to be continuous and ever present in our society. And, although the wave of toxic inhalant use was to wane, there have always been other chemicals to take their place; other chemicals have come into vogue…always a “New Wave.” In all of my years of concern about our young people and their use/ abuse of licit and illicit chemical substances, none have struck me with the deep concern my colleagues and I have as the current use of Opioids, the precedence and prevalence of the destruction from these drugs.

The “New Wave” of Opioid substances has reached epidemic proportions in North America, Canada and the United States most specifically. I have written previous articles and monographs on the subject, in the Valley Morning Star and elsewhere; but have not written specifically about the synthetic Opioids that currently pose problems of great concern; among them being the drug Fentanyl and associated drugs. Fentanyl, a drug first synthesized in the 1960s, has been prescribed as a pain reliever under the names Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze. Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic that is similar to morphine (an opiate derivative), but is 50 to 100 time more potent. It is listed as a Schedule II drug by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), a controlled substance.

The illicit manufacturing and distribution of this drug on the street is known as Apache, China Girl, Dance Fever, China White, Friend, Goodfella, Murder 8, Tango and Cash, and Jackpot.

The illicit powder for and pill form is generally smuggled into Mexico from China, along with pill presses, where it makes its way across the border by smugglers for sale in the U.S.

The drug, due to its high potency and rapid onset of its actions in the brain, is likely to increase the risk of addiction and overdose ( according the National Institute on Drug Abuse Opioid Addiction affects an estimated 2 million Americans, with another half million people abusing Opioids). As an overview of this epidemic, I present you the reader with the current facts and figures surrounding this most serious problem. In reports released during this month, from the Center for Disease Control, Medscape, the Journal of Pediatrics, and other studies; it was found that deaths from Fentanyl and associated synthetic opioids increased 72 percent from 2014 to 2015, from 5,544 to 9,581; and most probably a lot of deaths from the drug were underreported.

In the State of Ohio alone, there was a 500 percent increase in fentanyl involved deaths from 2013-2014; from 84 to more than 526. Further research tells us that between 2000 and 2015 there were 188,468 reports to the CDC poison control center related to opioid poisoning; on an average, 11,799 exposures are reported annually, or 14.34 exposures per 100,000 individuals younger than 20. Of such, and a most significant and important fact, the majority of calls to the center, 59.7 percent concerned children younger than 5 years of age, and 29 percent were about teenagers.

Yes, that’s right, children from age 2 have died from the ingestion of Fentanyl and associated opioids…the majority of these deaths came from taking (or being given by) parents or other relatives prescription medication or illicit pills in the home.

This onslaught to our youth, as is such for all drug abuse, has to be stopped.

The efforts of interdiction, sales, distribution, and consumption of this dangerous drug are most important. As I have so often stated, it must be a concentrated effort by all involved. And, at the heart of the matter must be the child’s parents and other significant, healthy adults in their lives to teach them about the values associated with their lives…to be comfortable with whom they are and to speak of problems they may have in their lives; that they may work through and solve their life’s problems without the need for alcohol or any other mood and mind altering chemicals.

We must keep up the fire on the war on drugs; a concerted effort must continue with our law enforcement agencies, our educational efforts, prevention efforts, and treatment efforts. Yes my friends, we still remain in a war on drugs. Stemming the tide of alcohol abuse and the abuse of other drug substances has been fought in many battles. More people in the United States have perished by alcohol abuse and other drug substance use/ abuse than any declared wars our nation has been engaged in since World War II…hundreds of thousands, and perhaps in the millions.

The tide continues to roll in with each wave bringing new problems, and the contemporary problem with Fentanyl and other opioids is our latest battle.

It serves all of us well to be aware of these most serious of problems facing the future of our youth and that our citizenry take action in this regard.

There is much that each and every one of us can do in this war. What are you willing to do? Until next time, Stay Healthy My Friends!