The “Third Wave” of The Opioid Crisis: Fentanyl.

Fentanyl-involved deaths soar in the U.S.

A Frightening Report from The Centers for Disease Control.
Two weeks ago, on March 14, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published some disturbing findings regarding the state of the opioid crisis in this country. The study begins with a shocking statistic: since 2013, fatal overdoses involving fentanyl have annually doubled. Merianne Rose Spencer, one of the study’s authors is sounding an alarm, “Between 2014 and 2017, fatal overdoses involving fentanyl have risen at an exponential rate.” Spencer also notes that death rates are increasing faster among black and Latino Americans than among whites. The study concludes by identifying fentanyl as “The Third Wave” of the crisis.

Fentanyl. The Third Destructive Wave.
The first wave was the proliferation of prescription pain medications (such as Oxycontin), the second wave was the rise in heroin (replacing pills when unavailable or too expensive), and now the fatal third wave, fentanyl. We’re in quite a battle. And it seems as though it’s deepening. The CDC reports an especially steep rise in the number of young adults ages 25-34 whose death certificates include some mention of the drug fentanyl.

Massachusetts: Hardest Hit.
The study reports that there are many geographical “hot zones” in the U.S. Massachusetts has been particularly affected and has seen a huge surge. David Kelly, Deputy Director of The New England High Intensity Drug Trafficking Unit reports that fentanyl seizures are experiencing a sharp, previously unseen spike. The New England area experienced the highest rate of overdoes deaths, followed by states in the Mid-Atlantic and Upper Midwest. The West has been stable, including Hawaii and Alaska, by the end of 2016 and into 2017. New England, and in large part, Massachusetts, has in effect, become the “test market” for fentanyl, thanks to the region’s strong market for opioids.

The Massachusetts state data show that fentanyl was present in more than 89 percent of fatal overdoses through October 2018. The report further states that these numbers are minimum counts, many overdoses may not be reported; blacks and Latinos are less likely to call 911, for a number of reasons. And men report overdose episodes far less than woman.

It’s Time For Action: A Generation of Americans is At Risk.
The CDC study makes it clear that opioids and fentanyl use is deepening, and there are no hopeful signs that it will subside any time soon. With the high level of user demand and fast profits available for sellers with the relatively low cost of fentanyl, I fear that we will lose a generation of Americans to the deadly curse of fentanyl use.

It’s obvious that we’re failing a large section of the U.S. population. Blacks, Latinos and low-income groups are suffering disproportionately, with skyrocketing death rates and few options. The CDC’s findings should encourage more outreach, prompting health care providers to find better ways to connect with active drug users. Let’s get to work.