The opioid crisis refers to the widespread misuse, abuse and addiction to opioid drugs. Opioids are a class of drugs that include prescription painkillers, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl, as well as illicit substances like heroin. The crisis emerged in the late 1990s when there was a significant increase in the prescription and use of opioid pain medications to manage chronic pain.
At the time, pharmaceutical companies assured healthcare providers that these drugs were safe and non-habit forming, leading to a surge in opioid prescriptions. However, this assumption turned out to be untrue, leading to the problem we have on our hands today. As opioid prescriptions soared, so did cases of misuse and addiction.
Unfortunately, once a person is addicted to opioids, they often seek out other drugs to get the same effects. This includes synthetic opioids, which are compounds designed to mimic the effects of natural opioids but with greater potency and unpredictability. Let’s learn more about the hidden dangers of synthetic opioids and why it’s crucial to recognize the risks associated with them.
Understanding Synthetic Opioids
Synthetic opioids are chemically engineered compounds created in laboratories to target the same receptors in the brain as natural opioids, such as morphine or heroin. The most common synthetic opioids include fentanyl, carfentanil and U-47700 (pink). These substances are highly potent, with some being hundreds of times stronger than morphine.
Initially developed for medical purposes, these synthetic opioids have now found their way into the illicit drug market, posing a severe public health concern. What makes them especially dangerous is that users never know exactly what they are taking. And the combinations of synthetic drugs keep coming.
For example, Xylazine and fentanyl drug mixtures are the latest craze, and they are proving to be extremely dangerous, putting users at risk for a fatal overdose. Xylazine is not an opioid but rather a tranquilizer used by veterinarians. Because of this, naloxone is not effective in reversing the drug’s effects.
The Rising Prevalence and Unpredictability
One of the most alarming aspects of synthetic opioids is their increasing prevalence in street drugs. Due to their potency, even a minuscule amount of synthetic opioids can lead to a fatal overdose. Often, these substances are mixed with other drugs like heroin or cocaine, unbeknownst to the user. As a result, individuals who believe they are consuming one drug may be unknowingly ingesting a lethal cocktail, increasing the likelihood of overdose and death.
The unpredictable nature of synthetic opioids compounds the danger they pose. Illicit manufacturers alter the chemical structures of these substances to stay ahead of law enforcement, making it challenging to identify and regulate them effectively.
Consequently, the same name or label on the illicit drug market might contain different synthetic opioids or varying levels of potency, leading to a high risk of accidental overdoses.
Vulnerable Populations at Risk
While synthetic opioids can affect anyone, certain populations are particularly vulnerable to their dangers. Individuals struggling with opioid addiction may unknowingly encounter synthetic opioids in their drug supply, putting them at a higher risk of overdose.
Furthermore, teenagers and young adults, often experimenting with drugs, may not be fully aware of the potential risks associated with these deadly substances. Additionally, those who purchase prescription opioids illegally may also be exposed to counterfeit pills laced with synthetic opioids.
Recognizing the Signs of Synthetic Opioid Use
Recognizing the signs of synthetic opioid use is crucial for early intervention and potentially saving lives. Some common indicators include:
- Pinpoint pupils
- Drowsiness or nodding off
- Slurred speech
- Shallow breathing or difficulty breathing
- Pale or clammy skin
- Confusion or disorientation
- Blue lips or fingertips
- Unresponsiveness or inability to wake someone up
Seeking Help and Support
The hidden dangers of synthetic opioids necessitate a proactive approach to address the opioid crisis. Combating this threat requires a combination of efforts, including:
- Education. Spreading awareness about the risks of synthetic opioids through educational programs and community outreach initiatives.
- Access to treatment. Ensuring that those struggling with opioid addiction have access to evidence-based treatment programs that incorporate medication-assisted therapy and counseling.
- Harm reduction. Implementing harm reduction strategies like naloxone distribution programs to reverse opioid overdoses and prevent fatalities.
- Support for loved ones. Offering support and resources to family members and friends affected by someone’s opioid use, encouraging them to seek help for their loved ones.
Opioid Use Treatment in Santa Rosa CA
The hidden dangers of synthetic opioids demand immediate attention and action. Recognizing the risks associated with these deadly substances is vital for preventing overdose deaths and protecting vulnerable populations. By fostering awareness, promoting education and providing support for those impacted, we can take significant strides towards combating the opioid crisis and saving lives.
Pura Vida Recovery is a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Santa Rosa CA. We use a combination of evidence-based and holistic practices to help individuals recover from substance use and mental illness. We have extensive experience treating opioid use disorders, including medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Contact our treatment team to learn more.