U.S. opioid crisis to spur ‘mass death’ as pain pills mixed with other drugs, study warns

Northwestern University scientists say deaths rising from polydrug abuse, when synthetic opioids are mixed with stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamines.

Published: July 28, 2022 11:40pm

Updated: July 29, 2022 12:08am


Researchers are warning that the United States is facing its most significant spike in opioid deaths as patients increasingly mix synthetic pain pills with stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamines.

In a peer-reviewed study in JAMA Network Open, researchers at Northwestern University described the dark consequences of the phenomenon known as polydrug abuse.

“I’m sounding the alarm because, for the first time, there is a convergence and escalation of acceleration rates for every type of rural and urban county,” study author Lori Post said Thursday. “Not only is the death rate from an opioid at an all-time high, but the acceleration of that death rate signals explosive exponential growth that is even larger than an already historic high.”

The study said the United States has seen three overlapping major waves of opioid overdose deaths: in 2000, 2007 and 2013, the last fueled by the rise of fetanyl.

The current wave, worsened by the pandemic, is poised to be the most lethal yet, researchers fear.

“We have the highest escalation rate for the first time in America, and this fourth wave will be worse than it’s ever been before,” Post said. “It’s going to mean mass death.”

Toxicology reports examined by the Northwestern team showed overdoses increasingly involve fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that can be 100 times more potent than morphine — and carfentanil, which can be 100 times more potent than fentanyl.

“The only path forward is to increase awareness to prevent opioid use disorders and to provide medication-assisted treatment that is culturally appropriate and non-stigmatizing in rural communities,” Post said.

In February, another study said as many as 1.2 million people could die from drug overdoses across North America by the end of the decade.

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