While doctors are prescribing fewer opioids, criminal organizations have been capitalizing on the nation’s rising opioid dependency by producing and distributing an abundant supply of illicit and lethal drugs, says a new study by the American Action Forum.
While doctors are prescribing fewer opioids, criminal organizations have been capitalizing on the nation’s rising opioid dependency by producing and distributing an abundant supply of illicit and lethal drugs, says a new study.
The research, published by the American Action Forum, found that fatalities from heroin and black-market synthetic opioids soared between 2013 and 2016, when the number of opioid overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids grew by 84.2 percent each year.
“One reason is that users often unknowingly ingest [the synthetic drugs]” said the authors, Ben Gitis and Isabel Soto. Gitis is director of labor market policy at the American Action Forum.
Synthetic opioids are generally either mixed in with the local heroin supply to increase its potency and value or pressed into pills made to look like prescription opioids or other medication.
Additionally, the practice of mixing synthetics into other substances has expanded beyond heroin, with users and dealers mixing synthetics with stimulants like cocaine.
Simultaneously, the number of opioids prescribed nationwide sharply dropped in 2010, as did the death rate from prescription-opioid overdoses.
The annual growth rate of deaths involving prescription opioids slowed from 13.4 percent before 2010 to 4.8 percent after that.
This came after authorities went after pill mills and rogue doctors, states started prescription drug monitoring programs and Purdue Pharma released a reformulated version of the painkiller OxyContin that was more difficult to crush and abuse.
Researchers claim that by cracking down on prescription opioids, a wide range of addicts were left untreated, thus turning to the black-market for relief.
Now, the underground market has expanded, and cartels that did not previously transport heroin into the United States are starting to do so in order to catch up with competitors, the study noted.
These crime organizations have established “cell heads” in cities including New York, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore, which distribute the drugs throughout the United States.
“This consequence suggests that combating opioid dependency requires a comprehensive approach: continuing to address the supply of legal prescription opioids.”
“But also more effectively treating dependency and cutting off the supply of illicit opioids” they concluded.
See also: José Díaz-Briseño: “Crossing the Mississippi: How Black Tar Heroin Moved into the Eastern United States.”
The study can be found here.
Megan Hadley is a reporter for The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.