The Fentanyl and Opioid Crisis – Current Trends and Solutions

The COVID-19 pandemic has over-shadowed the ongoing opioid crisis. Between 1999 – 2018, there were over 750,000 deaths by overdose – the majority were opioid related.

This number includes both illegal and prescription forms of the drugs. These deaths have been described as a triple wave phenomenon: 

Three waves to the opioid overdose crisis:

  1. 1999 – increased number of deaths involving prescription opioids, peaked in 2017
  2. 2010 – increased number of heroin-related deaths, peaked in 2017 
  3. Since 2013 – dramatic rise in deaths involving synthetic opioids such as fentanyl

Definition of Fentanyl and Opioids

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 – 100 times stronger than morphine or heroin. It is the number one contributor to overdose related deaths in the United States.

There are two types of fentanyl:

  1. prescription (pharmaceutical) fentanyl
  2. illicitly manufactured fentanyl

Both forms are synthetic opioids. Doctors may prescribe fentanyl to treat severe or chronic pain.

They work on the brain’s reward centers, making them extremely addictive. Endorphins, which are the brain’s neurotransmitters that make us pleasure, are released and produce a strong sense of wellbeing.

Recreational use of fentanyl has been on the rise and is the leading cause of overdoses and deaths.

Abuse and addiction can start quite quickly. When the drug wears off, the user is left with a strong urge to use more of the drug.

Overview of the Fentanyl and Opioid Crisis

Doctors started prescribing opioid painkillers to their patients in the 1990s when pharmaceutical companies assured them that they were safe and non-addictive.

It became abundantly clear over the coming years that these drugs were contributing to high rates of opioid abuse, overdoses and death. 

The opioid crisis in the US has major impacts on the country. It is estimated to cost up to $80 billion a year in lost wages, healthcare costs and additional strain on the criminal justice system.

Fentanyl is one of the deadliest opioids and is responsible for more drug related deaths than any other substance, yet its popularity is continually on the rise.

Many people are unaware that the substance they are using is laced with fentanyl, resulting in a huge number of accidental overdoses and deaths. 

The opioid crisis started back in the 1990s with the introduction of new painkillers that, despite glorious claims by the pharmaceutical companies, proved to be extremely addictive, leading to increasing rates of abuse, addiction, overdose and death.

The side effects of these medications were underestimated. The high rates of abuse and addiction have been made possible by negligent practices of the pharmaceutical companies and health care providers as well as a lack of education and public awareness.

Fifteen of 100 Americans live in rural areas. Overdose mortality rates in rural areas have surpassed urban ones, posing a major threat to public health. 

Current Trends Related to Drug Overdose Deaths

Opioid use disorder (OUD) is far reaching, affecting all population groups in every part of the country. Many opioid related deaths are being attributed to the use of other drugs in combination. 

Fentanyl is a global problem with Canada being hit particularly hard by overdose deaths. In the US between 2014-2017, fentanyl was regionally isolated to the Northeast and Midwest. In 2017-18 the West seen the highest increase in overdose and deaths.

Trends have shifted as use moved from prescription to illegal forms of the drug. 

The opioid crisis in the US is killing more than 100 people a day and this number continues to rise. 

Fentanyl is one of the deadliest opioids in the world yet its popularity is steadily on the rise. 

From 2019 to 2020:

  • nearly 600,000 people died from an opioid related overdose (this includes illegal and prescription)
  • opioid related deaths rose by 38%
  • prescription opioid related deaths rose by 17%
  • heroin related deaths declined by 7%
  • synthetic opioid related deaths rose by 56% (this does not include methadone)

Rise in Availability of Illicit Fentanyl

Most illicit fentanyl in the United States is coming from China, either directly or via Mexico.

The supply has been diversifying from China and Mexico to include India as a source country for manufacturing and distribution.

Due to China’s lack of regulations in the pharmaceutical industry, it is much easier for them to manufacture and distribute various products, including raw fentanyl powder and fake prescription drugs that are laced with fentanyl.

At a glance:

  • In 2014, 8 pounds of fentanyl was seized at the border
  • In 2015 this number jumped to 200 pounds
  • In 2022 this number soared to a staggering 10,000 pounds of fentanyl powder and over 50 million fentanyl pills 

China has been showing interest recently in preventing illegal manufacturing and distribution but despite their efforts, fentanyl continues to make its way into the United States and countries across the globe

Impact on Different Demographics

Age and Race

From 2015 to 2017, all racial groups and age groups across the US seen a significant increase in the number of overdose death rates but more so for black people 45-64 years of age in large central metro areas.

Among adults, opioid use is highest among people who identify as two or more races as well as for American-Indian and Alaska-Native people. Over 5% of these populations are affected.

Numbers continue to rise among other groups as well. Between 2018-2019, opioid use increased by 38.5% among people of Asian descent and 8.3% among Hispanic/Latino people.

Some groups are more likely to use certain types of opioids than others. For example:

  • White men and women are at higher risk for overdose from any type of opioid
  • Black and Hispanic men and women tend to prefer heroin
  • American-Indian and Alaska-Native men and women tend to use more prescription opioids 

More than 75% of people with OUD are young white men 18-34 years old.  

The age of people with OUD increased due to the epidemic’s shift from prescription to illegal opioids.

During the prescription phase, drug related deaths rose among both men and women 25-54 years of age in both rural and urban areas. Men 25-39 years old tend to be the most affected with drug use involving heroin and fentanyl.

Government efforts to address the opioid crisis have had the greatest impact on people ages 18-25. The number of people abusing prescription opioids in this age group decreased by 42% and those abusing heroin decreased by 40%.

OUD rates among teens 12-17 years old have decreased, making up only about 2% of all people with OUD. Females in this age group have higher rates of OUD. Teens who use opioids prescribed by their doctors are 33% more likely to continue using into adulthood. 

People 26 and older make up nearly 80 percent of all OUD cases.


A growing number of young women have developed OUD in recent years as well, especially those of childbearing age. This has led to an increase of use among in pregnant women and their babies being born with neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (NOWS).

Why are more women using opioids? Some explanations include:

  • women tend to have higher rates of pain
  • women are more likely to use opioids for problems like anxiety and depression
  • women are more susceptible to the cravings for the drug
  • doctors tend to prescribe more opioids to women than men

Men make up 70% of opioid overdose deaths but during this epidemic, overdose deaths among women has been steadily increasing at a rate of 1,326% compared to a 901% increase for men.

Rural vs Urban

In rural areas, opioid overdose death rates per 100,000 are:

  • 47.4 among American-Indian and Alaskan-Native people
  • 41.2 among White people
  • 17.8 among Black people
  • 15.8 among Hispanic people

In urban areas, these numbers are even higher:

  • 49.3 among American-Indian and Alaskan-Native people
  • 50 among White people
  • 34.4 among Black people
  • 18.6 among Hispanic people

Get Help Today

If you or a loved one are using opioids you should seek professional help right away.

There are various treatment options which the admissions team at Luxe Recovery would be happy to discuss with you. Please reach out today.

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