Heroin or Fentanyl: What’s Our REAL Problem?
For years, when discussing the opioid problem in the United States, most people think about one of two things; either they think about the heroin problem and how it started with painkiller abuse, or they think about fentanyl and the massive problems it’s been causing our society in recent years. Yes, the opioid problem is completely out-of-control. Yes, heroin is still being widely used throughout the nation, and yes, people are still dying from fentanyl overdoses every day. But with the popularity of fentanyl on the streets and as an adulterant for heroin, how much heroin is actually being used these days? Are people no longer shooting heroin and mainly using fentanyl? What’s our real problem these days?
Working in a drug rehab facility, I see a little bit of everything. I see people coming in from all walks of life, looking for a glimmer of hope or the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel” when it comes to their addiction. I see doctors, lawyers, average “Joes,” and pretty much anyone you could imagine coming through the doors of our treatment center looking to get help. And as you probably guessed, most of them are seeking help for opioid addiction. The strange conversation comes when a self-proclaimed heroin addict comes in, says they have been shooting a gram a day, but low and behold, test negative on the drug screen we routinely give as part of the intake process. We sit down with them and “pull the string.” They say they’re regularly injecting heroin, but their urine says otherwise. What’s really going on here?
What’s happening is that most people think they’re going out on the streets and buying heroin, but what they’re really buying is fentanyl, hence why they test negative when coming into our treatment center. Fentanyl doesn’t show up as an opiate on drug screens and a separate test specifically for fentanyl has to be given in order to determine whether or not a person has been using it. And we’ve been seeing more and more of this as time goes on. What this tells me is that there’s more fentanyl readily available on the streets than actual heroin and people are using more and more fentanyl, thinking it’s something else, which is pretty scary. In 2013, U.S. Border Patrol and Customs only confiscated 2 pounds of fentanyl. In 2017, they seized 1,485 pounds of fentanyl, which is a 74,000% increase!
That’s a huge jump in the amount of fentanyl coming across our borders. If the U.S. Border Patrol and Customs took away that much fentanyl, think about how much actually got through. That figure is staggering, and it just goes to show the gravity of the rise in our predicament. I don’t think we have as much of a heroin problem anymore, but transversely, we have a HUGE fentanyl problem. Fentanyl overdose isn’t isolated in just opioid addicts, but the drug has found its way into other drugs like cocaine, meth, and anecdotally, marijuana. The fact of the matter is, we have an epic problem on our hands that only long-term treatment and addiction reform are going to handle. We need to open our eyes people! This thing is only getting worse.