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In November of 2021, reports from the CDC were released addressing yet another epidemic in the United States. The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics data indicated that the 12-month period from April of 2020 to April of 2021 significantly outnumbered the number of drug overdose deaths ever recorded annually.

The 12-month period the year prior, from April of 2019 to April of 2020, recorded nearly 78,000 overdose deaths. The most recent record showed an increase of nearly 30% in one year, recording almost 132,000 overdose deaths. As this number continues to increase each year, it is more critical than ever to address the causes and concerns that stand among this aging epidemic. 

Understanding Overdose

When people think of the term drug overdose, they often consider the act of taking too much of something addictive. Therefore, many consider overdoses to be the act of overindulging in a specific drug. It is essential to recognize that although this definition is valid and crucial, not all drug overdose deaths are because an individual took too much of a certain substance. 

In the case of taking too much of a drug, there are two different subcategories of overdose: intentional and accidental. An intentional overdose occurs when an individual deliberately takes too much of a drug, while an accidental overdose occurs when too much is taken by mistake.

Another circumstance to be aware of regarding deaths labeled overdose is death by consuming tainted drugs. Unfortunately, this is the reality of many street drugs. 

Concerns Regarding Fentanyl

Individuals that buy illegal substances such as cocaine, MDMA, and other pressed or powdered pills run the risk of buying contaminated substances. Many illicit substances are intentionally contaminated by dealers to increase their potency in a cost-effective way. Since these drugs are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), buyers risk purchasing tainted products. 

One of the most dangerous substances illegal drugs are laced with is fentanyl. While fentanyl is a synthetic opioid with legitimate medical uses, illicit fentanyl is typically mixed in with counterfeit pills or powders in lethal doses.  

Fentanyl Is Lethal

A lethal dose of fentanyl is comparable to a few grains of sand or less. Two milligrams of fentanyl can be fatal to a person, although body size, tolerance, and drug history also influence how an individual responds. Synthetic opioid overdoses increased nearly 56% between January 2020 and January 2021, making fentanyl-contaminated opioids the leading cause of the significant increase in overdose deaths. 

Combatting the Overdose Epidemic

The COVID-19 pandemic bringing about increased isolation and uncertainty about the world likely had its own impact on the increase in overdose deaths in the last few years. However, this epidemic began long before COVID-19. While it is critical to understand the different ways that the CDC is working to fight the drug overdose epidemic, it is even more essential to recognize the ways that you can help, too. 

Normalize Conversations Surrounding Mental Health

Stigma is the leading cause of why individuals avoid seeking mental health treatment, even when their distress is severe. To actively combat the overdose epidemic, normalizing conversations surrounding mental health among your family, friends, and loved ones is crucial. 

One reason why it is so imperative to normalize conversations about these topics is that it normalizes the experience of mental illness, substance use, and addiction. As you have these conversations with others, take notice of your own biases. Recognize any foul, negative, or judgmental language you may use towards people who use drugs or struggle with drug addiction and make strides to improve them.

Challenge the Misconceptions 

It can be easy to get caught up in the language and stereotypes society may use when discussing these topics. For instance, consider the term overdose death. While this term may be valid when explaining circumstances where an individual deliberately took too much of a drug, it is not accurate to define a death caused by a substance laced with something toxic. This is because this category may be framed as the individual’s fault rather than the person who manufactured or sold it.

Advocate for Yourself and Others

Continue to advocate for substance use prevention, harm reduction, evidence-based treatment, and recovery support for those who need it. Although the overdose crisis is a national issue, you can do your part in advocating for safer use of substances as well as encouraging loved ones to get the help that they need to secure lifelong recovery. Your voice will help motivate others to seek help and strengthen the recovery community as a whole. 

In 2021, the United States outnumbered any prior record of annual overdose deaths. Increasing the number of deaths by nearly 30% from the year prior, the drug overdose epidemic is continuing to impact thousands of lives. It is essential for each person to do their part in combatting the overdose epidemic by normalizing conversations surrounding mental health, addiction, and substance use. West Coast Recovery Centers recognizes the increasing need for community outreach, including prevention, harm reduction, and recovery resources. We have built up an intimate recovery community so that every person feels valued during their treatment experience and beyond. We value connection and strive to provide individualized care for all of our clients that honor their needs and goals while allowing them to feel encouraged by our staff and peers. If you or a loved one struggles with addiction, the time to seek help is now. For more information about our treatment center, call us today at (760) 492-6509