Understanding addiction from a geographic perspective can be quite interesting and actually educate how recovery programs should be implemented in certain states. And this is actually a topic that researchers have recently been delving into. One new finding shows a large spike in fentanyl overdoses across western cities, particularly Seattle, Phoenix and our home town of Los Angeles.
NPR’s news site covered this latest finding, highlighting a few key reasons behind the trend. The research, gathered by The Center for Advanced Defense Studies, showed a major shift in fentanyl deaths over the past two years. Prior to 2018, the vast majority of synthetic opioid OD’s occurred east of the Mississippi River. But now, there has been a drastic change; with the west accounting a large majority of last year’s 72,000 drug fatalities.
It is theorized that many of the people dying in our region are getting far more potent drugs than they expect. These batches of “street fentanyl” are often contaminated and misrepresented as other types of painkillers. Chelsea Shover, a lead epidemiologist at Stanford University, spoke to NPR about what may be happening in cities across Arizona, California and Nevada.
“These victims, they think they’re using heroin or they think they’re using Ecstacy or Xanax or what looks like an Oxycontin pill, but it’s actually fentanyl,” she explained. “It’s just getting worse, and it’s killing too many people.”
One reason for the spike in our region could be California’s close proximity to Mexico. NPR’s report claims that the Chinese chemical companies who manufacture illegal fentanyl are selling their products to drug cartels just below the U.S. border. From there it is distributed across western states, with the article noting that fentanyl is easy to ship locally and cheap to make (offering a much larger profit margin than a drug like cocaine).
Of course, the people receiving the drugs might not even know the potency behind each pill. And in areas like Los Angeles, addictions have become extremely severe amongst the growing homeless population. That group, the article claims, are the most vulnerable to deadly overdoses. For one, they have less access to life saving measures; such as the anti-overdose med narcan or local paramedics. This, in turn, contributes to the large spike in fatalities.
The saddest news of all, per the article, is that the 2020 stats are expected to be much worse. With COVID-19, more people out of work and depression and anxiety on the rise, this is definitely an issue that deserves to be a top priority.