• February 3rd, 2023
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U.S. Drug Crisis Growing Increasingly Difficult to Handle


 

By Benjamin Neufeld

 

Nearly 50 years after president Nixon declared a “war on drugs,” the addiction crisis in America has moved into historically unprecedented terrain. Meth and fentanyl, which are produced by Mexican cartels synthetically in extremely large quantities, have spread indiscriminately throughout the country.

 

“We are now in the synthetic drug era,” declared Sam Quiñones during an Ethnic Media Services press briefing on December 9th. The press briefing reported that, “in 2021, more than 100,000 people died in the U.S. of drug overdoses, about 71,000 of those deaths were related to synthetic opioids, according to the CDC.”

 

“No existe el adicto al fentanilo a largo plazo; todos mueren, y la metanfetamina te volverá psicótico mucho antes de que expreses un deseo sincero de recibir tratamiento y salir de la calle”.
Sam Quiñones, Periodista

 

Quiñones is a four-time author and former LA Times reporter who has covered drug trafficking and the opioid epidemic for over two decades. According to Quiñones, the ubiquitous effect of these synthetically manufactured drugs on U.S. communities, regardless of race, culture, or even class, is a recent and rare historical development. “Until 3 to 4 years ago I never saw a black person ever know, buy, sell, or use methamphetamine,” said Quiñones. This, however, is no longer the case.

 

Fentanyl, an extremely high potency opiate, has been used to make counterfeit pills of other, more expensive opiates like oxycodone. The opioid epidemic has been known for its effect on upper class communities by way of the prescription drug industry and overuse of pain medication. However, Fentanyl is produced in such high quantities that it has made its way into other drugs like heroin and cocaine. Because of this, according to Quiñones, many drug users have become addicted to fentanyl and intentionally seek it out.

 

John, an emergency room doctor (who requested to be identified only by his first name), seconded this point. John said that when he first began working in Chicago in 2013, the drug users that he saw come into his hospital used, “almost exclusively heroin.” Around 2016 and 2017, he began to see overdoses caused by the accidental ingestion of fentanyl by heroin users. John has since moved from Chicago to the West coast, but he says that as of the past year, he has started seeing patients who intentionally and knowingly buy and use fentanyl.

 

John pointed out that fentanyl is a prescription drug with legitimate medical applications. It acts quickly to treat pain and does not affect blood pressure, unlike other opiates. According to John, fentanyl is prescribed in micrograms—most other opiates are prescribed in milligrams. The extreme potency of fentanyl is what makes it so dangerous.

 

Meth, in contrast, has no direct medical equivalent. John reports having seen a staggering amount of meth users afflicted by extreme severe paranoia and psychosis. Longtime users often experience violent and scary delusions and hallucinations to an extent much worse than symptoms seen with schizophrenia/non-drug-induced mental illness.

 

The extremely wide availability of these drugs have caused them to become a major problem among homeless populations, according to Quiñones. Regardless of how one may end up on the street, access to meth and fentanyl has made getting off the street a nearly impossible challenge. According to Quiñones, these drugs are so addictive that many homeless people would rather remain homeless than receive housing—if the former option retains their access to these drugs while the latter restricts it.

 

In terms of treatment, fentanyl addiction can be treated with the same methods used for other opioids with drugs like Methadone and Buprenorphine. The unfortunate difference is that fentanyl users are much more likely to die of an overdose before they consider seeking addiction treatment. Still, according to John, opioid users are much more likely to admit they have a problem and seek treatment than meth users—who are apparently unlikely to even acknowledge that meth may be the cause of their psychosis symptoms. Worse, there are no medical treatment options for meth addiction—users must make the personal decision to stop and bear the withdrawal symptoms on their own.

 

“The luxury of time was with heroin,” said Quiñones. “There’s no such thing as a long-term fentanyl addict; they all die, and meth will drive you psychotic long before you ever express a sincere desire for treatment and getting off the street.”

 

Both Quiñones and John believe compulsory addiction treatment would be the only realistic solution for helping people addicted to these drugs. They also believe it would be the most compassionate thing to do considering the consequences of a lack of action.

 

 

Benjamin Neufeld is an Independent Reporter for The Weekly Issue/El Semanario.

 

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