drugs

The pandemic's effects on opioid users in the US and Europe

Substance abusers are at greater risk of contracting Covid-19, according to recent studies, a worrying fact as use of synthetic opioids gradually increases in Europe.Users of opioids or tobacco face a greater risk of catching the coronavirus and are more likely to suffer a more serious case of Covid-19 and to die, says a recent study by the National Institutes of Health in the US.The study, published in Molecular Psychiatry, a trade journal, assessed more than 73 million patients and found that people with opioid use disorder are at a particularly high risk.Nora Volkow, who heads the National ...

Here are the 10 most seductive drugs — and their fascinating histories

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The White House just accidentally revealed that Trump's main argument for a border wall is bunk

As President Donald Trump holds the threat of another government shutdown over the American people as he negotiates with Congress in order to get funding for a border wall, his White House released a new report Thursday that dramatically undermined the central argument he has made in favor of the wall.

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The real reason cocaine, heroin and marijuana are illegal has nothing to do with addiction

Looking out at the trail of devastation and death that the heroin epidemic has left in its wake, it’s hard to imagine that not long ago one could purchase the drug from a Sears catalogue.

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Here are 5 key facts about how legal weed is transforming Colorado

It’s been five years since the era of legal marijuana sales began in Colorado, and that’s been enough time to begin to be able see what sorts of impact the freeing of the weed has had on the Rocky Mountain State. From the economy and the fiscal health of the state government to law enforcement and public safety, legalizing marijuana has consequences.

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What's killing us: Here are the 10 drugs most implicated in overdose deaths

While there are signs that the country’s drug overdose crisis may have plateaued, the number of people dying from drug overdoses continues to be unconscionably high. Shockingly, the number of overdose deaths has increased tenfold since 1980 when there were only 6,000 nationwide and nearly doubled just in the past decade to more than 70,000 last year.

Now, in a new report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shed some new light on precisely which drugs are most implicated in these deaths. While the report examines overdose deaths from 2011 to 2016, we’re going to zero in on the 2016 data to get as close as possible to the present.

Three drug classes are involved: prescription and non-prescription opioids, benzodiazepines, and stimulants. Often, fatal overdoses involve more than one drug, whether it is drugs in the same class (heroin and fentanyl) or combinations of drug classes (heroin and benzos or fentanyl and cocaine).

Before we get into the number-crunching, it’s worth taking a moment to consider that each single overdose death is a tragedy. A human life has been lost prematurely, the potential snuffed out, and friends and family members suffer greatly. It doesn’t have to be that way. While we’re going to look at deadly drugs, it behooves us to remember that many of these deaths are a function not just of the drugs themselves, but of drug prohibition.

People overdose on fentanyl, for example, because in a black market there is no packaging, no quality control, no dosage information to inform them of just how powerful is that powder they’re snorting or injecting. Added to heroin or crafted into counterfeit prescription opioids by unscrupulous black market operators, fentanyl kills people who didn’t even know they were taking it. Even more insidiously, fentanyl is turning up in black market cocaine and methamphetamine, whose users aren’t even looking for an opioid high and haven’t developed any tolerance to them (although some may be speedballing—that is, taking both an upper and a downer at the same time).

That said, here are the drugs making the greatest contributions to the 63,632 overdose deaths in 2016. (The numbers add up to more than that figure because, in some—actually, most—overdoses, more than one drug is mentioned.)

1. Fentanyl: 18,335

In 2016, fentanyl vaulted into first place in the deadly drug sweepstakes. As recently as 2011, the synthetic opioid was in 10th place, with some 1,660 overdose deaths attributed to it, but the death toll has increased more than tenfold in just five years. More than two-thirds of fentanyl overdose deaths also involved other drugs, and fentanyl is involved in more than a quarter (28.5 percent) of all overdose deaths, including 40 percent of cocaine overdose deaths and nearly a third (32 percent) of heroin deaths.

2. Heroin: 15,961

At the tail end of the prescription opioid phase of the current overdose crisis in 2011, more people died from oxycodone than heroin, but between 2012 and 2015, heroin resumed its role as the leading opioid linked to fatal overdoses, only to be overtaken by fentanyl in 2016. The vast majority—70 percent—of people who died from heroin were also using other drugs. More than a third were also using fentanyl, while nearly a quarter (23.8 percent) were also using cocaine. As prescription opioids became more difficult to obtain, the number of people dying from heroin skyrocketed, nearly tripling in the five years ending in 2016.

3. Cocaine: 11,316

Cocaine deaths rose dramatically beginning in 2015 and by 2016 the annual death toll was double what it had been five years earlier. With bumper crops in Colombia in recent years, cocaine is cheap and plentiful. It is also increasingly being cut with fentanyl, which is implicated in 40 percent of cocaine deaths, and mixed with heroin, which is implicated in a third of them. Cocaine is named in 17.8 percent of all overdose deaths.

4. Methamphetamine: 6,762

Meth-related overdose deaths tripled between 2011 and 2016, a dramatic increase in what has become America’s forgotten drug problem. In 2016, slightly more than one out of 10 drug overdose deaths involved meth. Of the top 10 overdose drugs, meth is by far the one most likely to have been the sole drug implicated in the death, but even so, fentanyl was implicated in one out five meth deaths and heroin in one out of 10.

5. Alprazolam: 6,209

You know it as Xanax. This short-acting benzodiazepine is a favorite of stimulant users seeking to take the edge off, but also often forms part of a sedative cocktail with opioids or other benzos. About three-quarters of Xanax overdose deaths involve other drugs, with fentanyl, heroin, and oxycodone each involved in about one-quarter of Xanax deaths. Xanax deaths increased by about 50 percent over the five-year period.

6. Oxycodone: 6,199

Its most infamous formulation is OxyContin, but it is also sold as Roxicodone, Xtampza ER, and Oxaydo. It may have been the primary killer opioid a decade ago, but has chugged along at around 5,000 deaths a year before going over 6,000 in 2016. Four out of five people who overdose on oxycodone were also using another drug, most often Xanax (25.3 percent), followed by fentanyl (18.6 percent).

7. Morphine: 5,014

The granddaddy of opioids. Morphine deaths increased slowly beginning in 2011, but have still increased by about 40 percent since then. More than eight out of 10 morphine deaths involve other drugs as well, particularly fentanyl, which is involved in one out three morphine deaths. Cocaine (16.9 percent) and heroin (13.7 percent) are also frequent contributors to morphine ODs.

8. Methadone: 3,493

Prescribed as an opioid maintenance drug, methadone is one of the few drugs on this list to have seen the number of deaths decline between 2011 and 2016. They’ve dropped from more than 4,500 a year down to less than 3,500, a drop of roughly a quarter. Nearly three-fourths of all methadone deaths implicate other drugs, with Xanax being most common (21.5 percent), followed by fentanyl (15.1 percent) and heroin (13.8 percent).

9. Hydrocodone: 3,199

This semi-synthetic opioid is sold under a variety of brand names, including Vicodin and Norco, and has proven remarkably stable in its overdose numbers. Between 2011 and 2016, it never killed fewer than 3,000 or more than 4,000, almost always (85 percent of the time) in concert with other drugs. Xanax was implicated in one-quarter of all hydrocodone overdoses, followed by oxycodone (17.2 percent) and fentanyl (14.9).

10. Diazepam: 2,022

The most well-known diazepam is Valium. Like Xanax, this anti-anxiety drug can be used to take the edge off a stimulant binge, but it’s not cokeheads and speed freaks who are dying from it. In more than nine out of 10 fatal Valium overdoses, other drugs are involved, most commonly the opioids oxycodone and fentanyl, each implicated in about a quarter of the deaths, and heroin, implicated in a fifth.

Using these drugs is dangerous. Using them under a prohibition regime is even more so. Users don’t always know what they’re getting, and that lack of knowledge can be fatal.

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Trump predicts 'incredible' results from sentencing drug dealers to death - and shows why his sadistic strategies will only make things worse

This article was originally published by Filter, a magazine covering drug use, drug policy and human rights. Follow Filter on Facebook or Twitter.

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Mitch McConnell singlehandedly blocks sentencing reform - despite bipartisan support

Prospects for a major federal sentencing reform bill brightened on Wednesday with President Trump’s announcement that he would support the effort, but by week’s end, those prospects dimmed abruptly as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told the president he wouldn’t bring the bill to a floor vote this year.

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Bad News From Brazil: The Right Populist President-Elect Will Be Absolutely Horrid on Drug Policy

The far-rightist Jair Bolsonaro won Sunday’s presidential election with 55 percent of the vote. The victory by a man called by some “the Trump of Brazil” promises to push Latin America’s largest democracy to the right in many arenas, including drug policy, where his past pronouncements place him firmly in the camp of murderous anti-drug reform authoritarians such as Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who has presided over a war on drug sellers and users that has left more than 20,000 dead at the hands of police and shadowy vigilante death squads.

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This Ohio Ballot Proposal Would Be a Major Step in Rolling Back the Disastrous War on Drugs

Progressive voters in battleground Ohio will have one more reason to head to the polls next month. Not only do they have a chance to put a Democrat in the governor's mansion and reelect U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, but they also will have the opportunity to enact a dramatic sentencing reform that will keep thousands of non-violent drug offenders out of prison and help inmates currently serving time for drug possession get back into their communities sooner.

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Look Who's Got the Antidote to Trump's Prescription for Global Drug War

Even as U.S. President Donald Trump was using the meeting Monday of the United Nations General Assembly to try to create a hardline global drug policy coalition, a group that includes a dozen former heads of state from countries around the planet issued a report urging governments to embrace alternatives to a "failed" repressive drug war. Instead, the group argued, countries should begin to try to implement regulated markets for illicit substances.

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