More than 80% of drug users in New York take fentanyl, the powerful synthetic opioid behind a dramatic rise in fatal overdoses in the United States, but only 18% of voluntarily, according to a study that highlights the dangers of addiction to this product.
Manufactured in a laboratory, at lower costs than heroin, fentanyl has flooded the American drug market for years and caused an estimated 70,000 overdose deaths in 2022 out of a total of 106,000 in the United States, a record.
The opioid crisis is one of the number one public health problems in the United States and the United States Drug Administration (FDA) recently authorized the sale without a prescription of an antidote to overdoses caused by fentanyl, Narcan (naloxone), to stop this trend.
However, if “the overwhelming majority of people questioned” in the study “said that heroin was their main drug”, they “seem to have few means of avoiding fentanyl”, explains its author, Courtney McKnight, Clinical Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at New York University School of Global Public Health.
To achieve these results, his team conducted toxicological analyzes on a sample of 313 drug users, who all responded to a questionnaire at the same time, and 162 of whom responded to more in-depth interviews, between October 2021 and December 2022.
Result, 83% of participants tested positive for fentanyl, with or without heroin. But “only 18% said they had recently used fentanyl intentionally,” add the results of the study, published Wednesday in the International Journal of Drug Policy.
For Courtney McKnight, the danger is an increased addiction to fentanyl, which is much more powerful than heroin, and therefore an increased risk of overdoses.
Fentanyl “is a demon”, but “the 'Heroin today isn't really good, it's crap,' says Doug, a user quoted in the study.
“If you know you're taking fentanyl, you know you're going to feel it (and) get high,” he adds.
“Almost all members of our sample said they were worried about overdosing,” Courtney McKnight told AFP. According to their responses, nearly one in four drug users had overdosed at least once in the previous six months.
New York has seen the number of fatal overdoses soar in recent years , rising from 942 in 2015 to 2,668 in 2021.
The authors of the study recommend ways to extend the use of naloxone and access to substitute products, as well as support for supervised drug injection rooms, two of which opened in New York in 2021.