The impact of opioid usage extends beyond just legal concerns (which can be life-altering). Use of opioids (which includes illicit drugs such as heroin as well as prescription medications) can result in addiction, illness, and even death in the event of an overdose. The New York Times illustrates the grip that these drugs currently have on the American population and what is being done to break the cycle of addiction.

Younger Adults Have the Highest Risk

In previous years drug deaths most often affected people around age 40. This was primarily due to addiction to prescription drugs, which really found its footing in the early 2000’s. However, in recent years those aged 20 to 30 have experienced much higher rates of overdose deaths, usually as a result of heroin and fentanyl usage. Additionally, rates of overdose are highest in certain geographic areas, including the Rust Belt and within the Appalachian region of the U.S.

Why Fentanyl Is So Deadly

A huge factor in overdose deaths is the presence of fentanyl, which is a synthetic form of heroin. Because fentanyl is easier to access and highly potent, it’s often included with powdered heroin and illicit pills. This high potency (fentanyl is 50 times more powerful than heroin) also explains the role it plays in the increased number of overdose deaths. In many cases, users are not even aware that fentanyl is present in the drugs they procure.

How the Crisis Is Being Addressed

Prescription opioids are commonly used to treat chronic pain. Evidence shows that long-term use of these medications can lead to addiction, which is why those in the health care industry are being counseled to find alternative methods of pain management for less severe cases. There has also been a push for the application of things like methadone, which is used to control cravings during the treatment process, as well as antidotes used for overdoses (which include naloxone).