If the government’s plan to reduce availability of opioid medications was working, why are overdoses more frequent with opioids? The alarming statistics published widely across America indicate that an increase in the number of people dying as a result of overdosing on opiate drugs is reaching epidemic proportions.
What many of the reports and statistical data don’t always make clear is that the vast majority of opiate-related overdose fatalities are accidental – and completely preventable.
Opiate Overdose Death Statistics
According to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of overdose deaths from drugs has increased 137% since 2000 (1). The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported (2) that in 2016 there were more than 64,000 drug-related overdose deaths across America.
Of those deaths, more than 20,000 were related to fentanyl (Duragesic) and fentanyl analogs or synthetic opioids other than methadone. The second highest opiate overdose death rate at 15,446 was recorded as being caused by heroin.
A further 14,427 were attributed to other natural and semi-synthetic opioids, including morphine, oxycodone (OxyContin or Percocet), hydrocodone (Zyhydro, Vicodin), or methadone.
Opioid Epidemic Causes
It’s been widely reported in the media that there are number of factors that could be related to the current opioid epidemic. One of the leading opioid epidemic causes is thought to be the high incidence of doctors over-prescribing prescription opiate painkiller medications.
Predictors of Opiate Overdose
The two primary predictors of opiate-related overdose death are combining different drugs and tolerance changes. Using opiates over a period of time can cause the user to develop tolerance to the substance. The user feels the need to take higher doses to achieve the same effects that used to be reached with much lower amounts.
However, if the person detoxes from the drug of addiction and is abstinent for a period of time, the previous tolerance levels are changed. The body is no longer able to cope with such large doses that the user may have been taking during the height of use.
If a recovering addict relapses and attempts to take similar doses as were being taken prior to treatment, the risk of overdose is dramatically increased.
Are Overdoses More Frequent with Opioids Mixed with Other Drugs?
Statistics show that a large percentage of fatal and non-fatal overdoses attributed to opioid drugs also involve at least one other substance.
Opioid drugs act as a depressant on the central nervous system (CNS), which has the potential to cause respiratory depression, or slow the breathing rate to dangerous levels. Taking opioids with other CNS depressants, such as alcohol or benzodiazepine drugs, significantly increases the risk of overdose.
In an effort to find an answer to the question ‘why are overdoses more frequent with opioids’ the Hams Harm Reduction Network studied the data for opioid overdoses on death certificates. The study discovered a range of differences between various states in terms of the types of drugs being combined.
Some areas were more likely to combine opiate drugs with benzodiazepines, while others had a higher incidence of combining alcohol with opiates. Still others were more likely to use stimulant drugs, such as cocaine with opioid street drugs like heroin in an attempt to enhance the high caused by both drugs, while trying to counteract the worst aspects of those drugs at the same time.
However, the answer to why overdoses are more frequent with opioids in other areas could be more strongly linked to illicit street drugs that are ‘cut’ with other substances. Reports show that use of fentanyl caused a spike in the number of opiate overdose deaths in 2016.
Some of those fatalities may have been caused by users attempting to use more potent opiates in an effort to get a better ‘high’. However, others may have been affected by batches of heroin that were mixed or ‘cut’ with fentanyl, causing them to take much larger doses than they realized.
So why are overdoses more frequent with opioids? There are a number of different reasons and factors that contribute to the overall response. The reality remains that the opioid epidemic is still spiraling out of control right across the country.
If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.