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Essay

The opioid epidemic

By David Yenches

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently declared an opioid epidemic in the U.S. They said there were 90 deaths a day across the country from opioid overdoses.

Fentanyl is the drug which is the prime suspect of ODs; it's 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin. But unlike heroin, which is illegal, opioids like fentanyl are prescribed by doctors as painkillers.

The problem is that many doctors overprescribe opioids, and there is the chance that patients will get addicted to them or suffer withdrawal symptoms if they stop.

Opioids are so common that people almost see them as normal. One way is through TV ads. Although there are no TV ads for opioids, there are ads for drugs that help with one of its side effects: opioid-induced constipation. The ads are pleasant and make you feel that opioids are just another kind of painkiller.

But they're dangerous. People can buy opioids on the street. Overdoses on the street are such a big problem that police near where we lived in Washington state carry a special drug that can fight overdoses, and have used it to save several people.

And it's not just Washington state. The governor of Florida, at the opposite corner of the country, recently declared an opioid epidemic there.

Canada now has the same problem: It uses more opioids per capita than any other country except the United States. One Canadian newspaper says you can order fentanyl online, as you might do a book or a piece of clothing. For $35 (¥3,900), you can buy a "sample" and for around $21,000 (¥2.3 million) a kilo. Or you can buy it on the street in the U.S. and drive it over the border. Canadian border guards don't check small packages.

It gets worse. It's illegal to sell fentanyl on the streets, but new fentanyl-like drugs are created all the time. Each new drug is similar to fentanyl but not exactly the same, so may be legal for a short time until it's banned.

The U.S. says suppliers in China are the main source of illegal opioids. They sell them online, often disguising them as desiccants or packing them along with electronic goods.

What can officials do? One idea is to make "safe house" spaces in local fire stations. Opioid users could use them to lower their stress or get counseling. Also, doctors shouldn't overprescribe, and they should give patients strict instructions on opioid usage.

These measures should help with the crisis, even if it's just a start.


※2017年6月8日11時 一部訂正しました。

オピオイドのまん延

アメリカで、強力な鎮痛剤の一種であるオピオイドの乱用が問題になっている。処方薬として購入できるため、よくある普通の薬というイメージが強いが実際は危険なものだ。

The Japan Times ST: June 9, 2017

The Japan Times ST 読者アンケート

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