BlogThe dark side of drugs: the opioid crisis
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The dark side of drugs: the opioid crisis


If you take a look at the history of the United States, it is laced with the use and abuse, the experimentation and persecution, and the prohibition and pushing of drugs.

To observe this country’s narcotics trends feels like a slightly schizophrenic journey. On one hand, there is a blossoming bud economy, with seed companies such as DNA Genetics and Humboldt, bringing the benefits of cannabis to millions of users. Whether for recreational or medical use, people are puffing away with the right knowledge and regulations for a responsible use of this plant.

On the other side of the moon though, the US is living through the most deadly drug crisis in its history: the opioid epidemic.

The vicious cycle: from patients to junkies

As of 2017, two million Americans are considered to be addicted to a legal or illegal, naturally derived or synthetic opioid, such as oxycontin, Vicodin, Percocet, morphine and heroin.  These substances bind to receptors in the brain and spinal cord, disrupting pain signals. They also activate the reward areas of the brain by releasing the hormone dopamine, creating a feeling of euphoria or a ‘high’.[1]  

It usually starts with a trivial prescription for painkillers, a quite common practice among physicians in the States, who have a tendency to over-prescribe these pills, which are both addictive and build tolerance.

This leads to some users (around 5%) who, after being cut off from legal medication, seek to feed their addiction through the black market, with its cheaper and more powerful supply. Statistics confirm that 4 out of 5 heroin users of today started out with prescription painkillers.

And then it got worse...

In recent years there has been a new player added to the game, and it goes by the name of Fentanyl. In the medical world, this is widely used on patients with terminal illness.  However, because of its high potency and wide availability, in 2007 this drug eventually flooded the black market and started to be used to cut other drugs, especially heroin. It is commonly agreed that Fentanyl is primarily responsible for the surge of deadly overdoses, as it is 10 to 50 times more potent than heroin [2] and it is undetectable to the bare eye.

Although this crisis is affecting some urban areas – Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago – the main demographic affected is a white, working class, rural male. As of figures from 2015, 91 people a day died from an opioid overdose. [3] In 2016 the toll was 66,000 people. Last year the number was more than deaths by gun homicides and road accidents.

The root of the problem

It is not possible to trace the roots of a crisis of this magnitude without taking into consideration some major events and some very profitable interests. The beginning of the increase in heroin use runs parallel to the 2008 economic collapse. To this equation can also be added an aggressive campaign by pharmaceutical companies such as Purdue Pharma [4] which “have put huge profits before telling the truth and their behaviour is directly responsible for stunning rises in opioid addiction that destroys lives and tears apart families”. [5]

The shameless flooding of the American market with painkillers was mostly based on the manipulation of an article from 1980 found in the New England Journal of Medicine, [6] which claimed that there is no risk of addiction in the use of opioids for chronic pain. This partial study was presented by the pharmaceutical industry as definitive research, and provided them with the ‘official’ medical backing they needed to wage their campaign: convincing the medical community of the wonders of these magic pills. In 2012, 282 million opioid prescriptions were handed out.

And now what?

On October 26th, 2017, the president of the United States declared the opioid crisis a national health emergency. Although many argue that this declaration does fall short of providing the adequate tools and funds necessary to combat such a massive problem, perhaps it can at least help put into the spotlight a deadly issue that until now has mostly been used to increase law enforcement budgets.

Many experts and affected individuals (from first aid responders to families of addicts) are adamant in proposing a more widespread availability of naloxone [7], a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose. Another measure is the limitation of the prescription of painkillers to treatment periods of seven days for any acute pain complaint.

However, these steps undoubtedly need to be accompanied by a social, political and cultural effort: from spreading objective information to funding treatment centres, from finding effective and caring ways to approach the treatment of disorders and diseases, to having a critical approach to pharmaceutical companies, etc.

This sounds scary

Indeed, the dark side of drugs. When drug use becomes a one-way trip to escape this world rather than a way to develop, deepen and discover life, there are usually nasty consequences.

As a small piece of advice: whatever you want to put into your body, make sure it is as clean as possible. The use of an EZ Kit, for example, could at least help you trip in a more safe way.

It is not our place here to moralize or judge those that end up in a web of addiction and despair, it is something we wish on no one, especially, as the situation in the States shows, when it is the consequence of a deceitful and profit hungry industry. If you ask us, it’s better to stick to the gifts of Mother Nature, rather than the poisoned gifts of the big bosses.



Image: K-State Research and Extensions under Creative Commons license 2.0

Author: Julia

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