The Tinge of the Drug Crisis: Black Americans and Opioids
Although often overlooked in the drug crisis, addiction issues involving Black Americans and opioids are an increasingly severe problem.
Since 1999, the number of drug overdose deaths in the United States has quadrupled. The Opioid Epidemic has contributed greatly to this astounding increase. Among all the opioids which have claimed lives and caused addiction throughout the country in recent years, fentanyl is perhaps the deadliest and most addictive. In fact, fentanyl is even more potent than morphine and heroin, and it killed about 24,000 Americans in 2017. Drug traffickers often mix fentanyl into heroin to increase its potency, but last year, law enforcement officials reported that traffickers have started to mix fentanyl with cocaine. According to DEA reports, this new trend will endanger thousands of lives.
In 2018, according to the DEA, there was a 112% increase in samples of cocaine which contained fentanyl. While about 60% of these samples also contained heroin, there was an overall decline in the prevalence of heroin mixed with fentanyl. In Florida, a state where cocaine is especially prevalent, the DEA reported a “widespread adulteration of cocaine with fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances,” including carfentanil, an animal tranquilizer, in 2017. Authorities in Florida actually discovered traces of fentanyl in more than 180 cocaine samples. That same year, fentanyl caused 57% of all fatal overdoses in New York City. In many cases, the overdose victim was using cocaine (which is already dangerous and illegal) and they weren’t aware that it contained fentanyl.
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The Colombian government has relaxed its campaign to exterminate the coca plant, so there is currently an abundance of cocaine in the global market for illegal drugs. Consequently, law enforcement agencies have confiscated large quantities of cocaine in American ports, including 16 tons on a cargo ship in Philadelphia and 3,200 pounds in a shipping container in New York earlier this year. Customs and Border Protection has seized at least 38,000 pounds of cocaine since October.
As a wave of cocaine floods America’s shores, the DEA believes that drug traffickers are mixing fentanyl into cocaine to make it more profitable. Adding fentanyl to cocaine results in a more powerful “high” and a far more addictive substance. This helps traffickers build a larger base of reliable customers at the expense of people’s lives.
According to the New York City Department of Health, cocaine users who have no experience with prescription or synthetic opioids face the greatest danger of overdose because they have no opioid tolerance. Nevertheless, there is already a demand for fentanyl-laced cocaine. In April, the DEA seized about 116 pounds of cocaine in New Jersey. The entire supply was adulterated with fentanyl.
The best way to avoid suffering an overdose from a combination of fentanyl and cocaine is to avoid cocaine entirely. Health officials and the DEA have warned that no one can be sure which substances may be included in any batch of cocaine.
Fentanyl is so potent, and it’s really hard for someone to tell if it’s in the substance they intend to use. This really is a crisis.
While law enforcement continues its work to stop the flow of drugs into the country, addiction experts are emphasizing the importance of educating the public about the dangers of fentanyl. One recovery center in New Hampshire is even leading a campaign to distribute free fentanyl testing strips. The strips can be used to test cocaine or heroin for the presence of fentanyl and, hopefully, prevent an overdose. New York City has also begun to distribute free naloxone, a medication which reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. If it is quickly and correctly administered, naloxone could save a person’s life from an overdose on fentanyl.
Ultimately, it is most important to understand that the people who manufacture and sell cocaine do not have their customers’ wellbeing in mind. If you are using cocaine, you are at risk not only for a cocaine-induced heart attack, but perhaps also for an opioid overdose.
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