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How Fentanyl Became an Epidemic

The opioid epidemic began in the 1990s when doctors started taking chronic pain more seriously. Spotting an opportunity, drug makers started heavily marketing opioid painkillers to doctors as safe, non-addictive ways to treat chronic pain. Much of this marketing was misleading and doctors and companies were later sued and fined. For example, Purdue Pharma, makers of OxyContin, was fined more than 600 million dollars for their marketing practices.

By the late 2000s, it was clear that opioid addiction was becoming a problem and the US government began efforts to make opioid painkillers less available. By this time, the genie was out of the bottle. Doctors have been over-prescribing opioid painkillers for more than a decade, sometimes prescribing months worth of pills when a few days worth would suffice. As a result, many patients who took the drugs as prescribed became addicted and excess pills were often sold, stolen, or given away, making them easy to get without a prescription. When the excess supply of pills finally started to dry up, many addicts turned to heroin, and more recently, fentanyl.

Deaths by fentanyl overdose have risen exponentially in the US since 2013. In 2016, deaths by fentanyl overdose exceeded even heroin. These figures are complicated because overdose deaths often result from a combination of drugs. Fentanyl is often combined with heroin to make heroin cheaper and more potent.

Despite being several times more potent than heroin, fentanyl is actually cheaper to produce. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that can be produced in a lab, often in China. Heroin, on the other is a highly refined form of opium made from the sap of the poppy plant. The poppy plant grows best in arid mountain regions, such as Afghanistan. Thus, shipping costs and risks are baked into the price of heroin, as is the danger inherent in refining morphine into heroin.

The increase in fentanyl use in recent years has several causes. One, as noted above, is that heroin dealers often cut heroin with fentanyl, so people may be using fentanyl without being aware. The nature of addiction, though, is that addicts want a more potents high. Just as many addicts move from pills to heroin, many move from heroin to fentanyl. Perhaps the most dangerous use of fentanyl is trying to overcome the effects of medication assisted treatments that block opioid receptors. In particular, addicts who receive mandatory Vivitrol injections might try to overcome the effect of the injection with an extremely potent drug like fentanyl. This is a terrible idea because if it works at all, it will probably cause an overdose.


If you or someone you love is addicted to fentanyl, heroin, or other opioids, Gardens Wellness Center can help. We offer medically assisted detox to make withdrawal as painless as possible. Call us today at 844-828-1050 or email us at