At the center of America’s deadly opioid epidemic, non-pharmaceutical fentanyl appears to be finding its way into illegal stimulants that are sold on the street, such as cocaine. Adulteration with fentanyl is considered a key reason why cocaine’s death toll is escalating. Cocaine and fentanyl are proving to be a lethal combination - cocaine-related death rates have increased according to national survey data. This has important emergency response and harm reduction implications as well—naloxone might reverse such overdoses if administered in time. A recent study by Nolan et. al. assessed the role of opioids, particularly fentanyl, in the increase in cocaine-involved overdose deaths from 2015 to 2016 and found these substances to account for most of this increase.
4 min read
4 min read
The opioid epidemic is a devastating public health crisis - over 47,600 overdose deaths in 2017 involved an opioid, and this number has seen a dramatic uptick in the last decade. Opioid-related mortality emerged as a public health issue in the 1990s, which led to a common cultural understanding of the opioid epidemic as a rural issue (concentrated in the Midwest and Appalachia) caused by an increase in the prescription of oxycodone. Emerging research suggests that the narrative of the current crisis is not so simple - that in fact there are multiple co-occurring and distinct epidemics, characterized by different types of opioids as well as geographical footprint.