Since the 1990s, doctors have been writing prescriptions for painkillers with little to no regard for the pills’ addictive nature, causing millions of Americans to go down a dangerous and deadly path that has become a full-fledged epidemic; claiming lives and destroying families and fortunes.
In the past several years, many states have tightened monitoring and doctors have reduced the dosages, making it more difficult for the addicts they created to get their drugs. Propelled by an insatiable need for the high and/or the desperate need to prevent detox symptoms, many drug addicts have turned to street dealers. Seizing on the opportunity to make huge profits, Mexican cartels and violent gangs are now flooding the market with cheap heroin. The situation has gotten so bad in U.S. cities that police say there’s not much they can do.
“Everybody and their mom sells drugs these days. There’s always somebody right there to pick back up,” commented Detective Brandon Connley of Cincinnati.
Studying the heroin market, Daniel Ciccarone is a medical doctor at the University of California at San Francisco who predicts no end in sight to the heroin epidemic. “We are not, in 2017, anywhere close to the top of this thing. Heroin has a life force of its own,” he said.
One city at the epicenter of the crisis is Cincinnati, where local police say dealers are now advertising Sunday specials, such as two-for-ones and free samples and texting their customers with the deals. Some even keep scheduled business hours while others drum up new business by reportedly throwing “testers” wrapped in paper slips printed with their phone number into passing cars.
The synthetic drug fentanyl is easier to produce and twice as profitable as heroin, making it the new go-to drug for the cartels. Fentanyl is typically mail-ordered from China are transported into the U.S. from Mexico, but police fear that suppliers may soon figure out how to manufacture it domestically. “With the potential that we’re going to see fentanyl labs popping up everywhere, I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” according to Tim Reagan, a Cincinnati DEA agent.
Only 2 milligrams of fentanyl can kill, but addicts like the stronger high it produces, and drug dealers like the way it amps up an already powerful addiction for those who survive taking it.
New synthetic drugs, such as an elephant tranquilizer called Carfentanil, which began making an appearance in dead addicts last summer, has contributed to hundreds of overdose deaths in Cincinnati last year and will likely kill hundreds more.
First responders have been stocking up on the nasal spray nalaxone, which is a drug that can reverse overdoses, but all it does is let addicts live to use another day.
During his campaign, President Trump shed light on the opioid epidemic and promised to do something about it, but funding for drug treatment programs is instead being cut from the new healthcare bill.
“Some addicts want that drug that’s killing everybody, because they want to get high or they hope they die,” according to one heroin addict currently in treatment. “I wasn’t like that. It’s like a massive grave.”
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