Deaths linked to synthetic opioids now outpace heroin deaths, which suggests that synthetic opiates such as fentanyl have contaminated other illegal drugs, as cited in a recent investigation published in the JAMA Network by Matthew Kiang, a researcher at Stanford University School of Medicine.
“People aren’t aware their drugs are laced and more potent than they expected, putting them at higher risk of overdose,” Kiang said.
The opioid epidemic has evolved as three distinct waves, per the research:
- The first wave of opioid-related deaths, from the 1990s until about 2010, was associated with prescription painkillers.
- The second wave, from 2010 until recently, was associated with a large increase in heroin-related deaths.
- The third and current wave, which began around 2013, involves a rapid increase in deaths associated with illicitly manufactured synthetic opioids, such as tramadol and fentanyl.
Additionally, the study concludes that “the evolution has seen a wider range of populations being affected, with the spread of the epidemic from rural to urban areas and considerable increases in opioid-related mortality observed in the black population.”
Understanding this information is important because “the identification and characterization of opioid ‘hot spots’ — in terms of both high mortality rates and increasing trends in mortality — may allow for better-targeted policies that address the current state of the epidemic and the needs of the population,” the researchers wrote.
“Treating opioid use disorder should be our top priority to curb the problem,” Kiang said.