One of the biggest crises facing the American social landscape in recent times has been the increased use of drugs in the opioid family. Opioids act on the nervous pathway that controls the sensation of pain, often mitigating the feeling of pain caused by noxious (painful) stimuli and producing a sense of euphoria. The way drugs work on the body is that repeated use of the drugs causes the body to develop a higher threshold; so more drug is needed to produce the same response and without the drug the body enters a withdrawal state.

Opioids are derived from the opium poppy and purified to produce morphine and heroin. Recently there has been an increase in the production of synthetic opioids which, in the case of fentanyl is 100 times stronger than morphine, or 10,000 times stronger, for carfentanyl. Though fentanyl was produced for human use for extreme pain, carfentanyl, however, is used on large animals such as elephants. Both are not illicitly taken for recreational purposes, which can be very dangerous and can lead to overdose in small quantities.

Synthetic opioids are significantly cheaper to produce than natural opioids and require far less man labour and production. Recreational drugs have begun to be cut with drugs like fentanyl, meaning people overdose at a far greater rate. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, more than 115 people die from drug overdoses per day. Opioid prescription has increased in the US, with most people beginning drug use after being prescribed opioids for pain management. A lot of people returning from war zones are given opioids for their pain and become hooked on the drug. People taking opioids often take multiple doses per day due to the short lifespan of the drug.

The New Yorker wrote a revealing article about the family, the Sackler family, that profit from the sale of opioid drugs and the crisis that ensued from their misuse. A major push in the sale of OxyContin (oxycodone) was that it was far safer than other drugs and could be prescribed for less severe pain. Previously, doctors had been hesitant to prescribe opioids, unless for cancer or end of life treatments, due to their addictive nature. OxyContin was marketed as ‘virtually non-addicting’, increasing its use. Its high cost meant that addicts turned to heroin when prices rose too high or prescriptions were no longer available.

Naloxone, a drug sold as Narcan, is a medication used to treat opioid overdoses works by blocking opioid effects. Naloxone can be taken orally or intranasally through a spray with a high efficacy. Naloxone has the ability to bring people back from the edge of death once they overdose. But has the efficacy of the drug gone so far that the risk of overdosing and dying has drastically decreased, resulting in more frequent overdoses, and sometimes more deaths. Naloxone presents a safety net for drug users and is beginning to produce more reckless opioid abuse. However, it is not a possibility to consider monitoring naloxone distribution in order to prevent this behaviour and would be more harmful than useful in altering action.