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What are Opiates?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2019 there was an estimated 10.1 million people that were aged 12 and older that misused opioids in the past year. Opioid abuse is a dependence that can have deadly consequences. In 2020 there was an average 44 people a day that overdosed and died because of prescription opioids, according to the CDC. Opiates include heroin, hydrocodone, morphine, oxycodone, fentanyl, methadone, and hydromorphone. 

What is the U.S. Opioid Epidemic?

The opioid epidemic in the United States started in the late 1990s when healthcare professionals began to prescribe opioid pain relievers at a higher rate because pharmaceutical companies stated that they were not addictive. This led to the misuse of the prescription opioids as well as the non-prescription opioids. Eventually it was discovered that they were in fact addictive, however the damage had already begun. According to the National Vital Statistics System, 70,630 individuals dies of drug overdose in 2019 alone. Along with that, in the past year there has been 1.6 million individuals that have had an opioid use disorder.

Symptoms of opioid addiction

  • Slowed breathing

  • Constricted pupils

  • Drowsiness

  • Confusion

  • Constipation

  • Nodding off or losing consciousness

  • Euphoria

  • Social withdrawal

  • Financial problems

  • Doctor shopping

  • Mood swings

  • Compromised immune system

  • Localized abscesses or systemic infection due to injection of drugs

  • Bowel perforation

  • Significant respiratory distress

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Fentanyl has become an increasingly common substitute for heroin and other street drugs in the last decade. Drug dealers commonly add it to heroin and counterfeit prescription pills. According to data from the National Vital Statistics System, fentanyl accounted for nearly half of all opioid-related overdose deaths in 2016.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid prescribed to relieve pain. Morphine is the standard that other opioids are compared to. It’s about 360 times stronger than Tylenol or aspirin. Comparatively, fentanyl is about 100 times stronger than morphine. A tiny amount of the drug can cause intoxicating effects. Fentanyl presently poses the most serious threat because as mentioned it is a lot stronger and can be contained in street drugs, without the user knowing. There are a few different ways individuals can abuse fentanyl. This includes swallowing it, snorting it, injecting it, and ingesting it using blotting paper.

The effects of fentanyl include:

  • Pain relief

  • Trouble thinking

  • Dry mouth 

  • Constipation

  • Euphoria

  • Relaxation

  • Drowsiness

  • Nausea

The CDC stated that over 150 people die everyday from overdoses related to synthetic opioids like fentanyl. The high potency of fentanyl greatly increases risk of overdose. Fentanyl can be absorbed into the body by inhalation, oral exposure or ingestion, or even through simple skin contact. This can make it a lot easier for an individual to overdose on it. 


Misusing fentanyl or taking high doses of the drug can cause vomiting, sweating, confusion and slowed breathing, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Warning signs include trouble breathing, dizziness, low body temperature and fainting.


What is Heroin?

The scientific name for heroin, which is derived from morphine, is diacetylmorphine. Morphine occurs naturally in opium, the sap inside the seed of the opium poppy plant. Heroin is usually the last opioid that a person becomes addicted to. The cheap cost and easy availability of heroin make it more appealing than prescription opioids. People who are addicted to the drug have to use it daily to avoid withdrawal. The longer that they use heroin, the more addicted they’ll become. Common names for heroin include smack, dope, and horse.

Signs and Symptoms of heroin use include:

  • Track marks, nosebleeds, and weight loss

  • Mood swings, dishonesty, and criminal activity

  • Paraphernalia like spoons, syringes and foil

  • Muscle aches, nausea and diarrhea

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