The third blog in our Fentanyl Uncovered series looks to the future to see where the opioid epidemic is going and how progress could be made.
Recent years have brought a dramatic rise in opioid overdoses. Fentanyl and fentanyl analogues, which now saturate the illicit drug market, are strong enough to be lethal even in miniscule doses. Accidental overdose deaths resulting from people miscalculating their fentanyl dose or unknowingly ingesting fentanyl have increased sharply.
According to the CDC, opioid overdose is now one of the leading causes of death in America. Along with COVID-19, opioids have contributed to the United States’ recent decline in life expectancy. The status of the opioid epidemic seems dire, and many have begun to wonder what can be done to stop the devastation of opioids.
Can Stricter Laws Prevent Overdoses?
The rising toll of the opioid crisis has led some to call for stricter sentences for those convicted of drug dealing, drug possession, and other drug crimes. However, multiple scientific studies have shown that harsher laws do not effectively reduce substance misuse.
Data collected from law enforcement, corrections, and state health agencies consistently find that stiffer prison terms fail to result in lower rates of substance misuse or substance distribution. When prison sentences are paired with substance use treatment like counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, and medication for opioid use disorder (MOUD), though, rates of recidivism drop significantly.
Could Stronger Borders Keep Fentanyl out of the Country?
Because fentanyl is often smuggled into the United States, some have also suggested that solving the opioid epidemic is a matter of strengthening our borders. However, most drug policy experts are skeptical of this idea. Fentanyl’s high intensity allows it to be trafficked in very small quantities. The amount of fentanyl needed to meet the demand of an entire region could fit in a backpack or duffle bag.
Even though US border agents confiscate millions of fentanyl pills every year at border crossings, far more shipments cross the borders successfully. Fueled by the popular drug’s high profit margin, the cartels have acquired the resources necessary to beat border crossings purely by numbers.
What Can Be Done to Prevent Fatalities from Fentanyl?
Rather than focusing on the supply of fentanyl and other opioids, a greater impact could be made by focusing on the demand for these drugs. Making efforts to further destigmatize substance use disorders—helping those suffering with opioid dependency be seen as people who deserve medical attention rather than criminals who deserve legal ramifications—can help us further leverage the benefits of treatment and bring recovery to the people that need it.
Expanding access to MOUD and deploying outreach programs that bring treatment resources to the communities where it’s needed most could make a significant impact in reducing the death and suffering caused by opioids. Advocating for legislation permitting the widespread distribution of fentanyl test strips would allow those with opioid use disorder to be sure their substances don’t contain fentanyl, thus preventing accidental overdose. Additionally, now that Narcan has been approved for over-the-counter sale, keeping this medication on hand—especially if one regularly interacts with people known to use opioids—could save the life of an overdose victim.
If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, call the New England Recovery Center today at 1-877-MyRehab.