Surge in Fake Painkillers as Prescribing Drops

DEA: Surge in Fake Painkillers as Prescribing – 12/6/16 – Pain News Network – by Pat Anson

A decline in the abuse and diversion of prescription pain medication is being offset by a “massive surge” in the use of heroin and counterfeit painkillers, according to a comprehensive new report by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

The DEA’s 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment paints a stark picture of the illicit drug trade in prescription medication, fentanyl, heroin, marijuana, methamphetamine and cocaine.  Interestingly, the 194-page report doesn’t even mention kratom, 

“Sadly, this report reconfirms that opioids such as heroin and fentanyl – and diverted prescription pain pills – are killing people in this country at a horrifying rate,” said DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg.  

The diversion of prescription opioids has fallen dramatically, according to the DEA report, from 19.5 million dosage units in 2011 to 9.1 million in 2015.

Less than one percent of the opioids legally prescribed are being diverted to the black market.

The agency says the prescribing and abuse of opioid medication is also dropping, along with the number of admissions to treatment centers for painkiller addiction.

This illustrates the frightening truth for all the businesses that have invested in addiction recovery. They assumed all the overdoses were being driven by prescription pain medications to pain patients who then got addicted but, as pain patients have always known, almost all overdoses are from recreational users.

“With the slightly declining abuse levels of CPDs (controlled prescription drugs), data indicates there is an increase in heroin use, as some CPD abusers have begun using heroin as a cheaper alternative to the high price of illicit CPDs or when they are unable to obtain prescription drugs,” the report states.

The increased use of heroin coincided with federal and state efforts to reduce the prescribing of opioids. So did the appearance of counterfeit pain medication made with illicit fentanyl – a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.  

So far, the war on opioids has only resulted in the exponential increase of the illicit opioid supply. This is consistent with the effect of the war on other drugs: an increase in other drug suppliers.

In 2015, there was a marked surge in the availability of illicit fentanyl pressed into counterfeit prescription opioids, such as oxycodone. In many cases, the shape, colorings, and markings were consistent with authentic prescription medications and the presence of fentanyl was only detected after laboratory analysis,” the DEA said. “The rise of fentanyl in counterfeit pill form exacerbates the fentanyl epidemic.

As Pain News Network has reported, the number of fentanyl related deaths has surged around the country.

The DEA predicts the problem will only grow worse.

“Fentanyl will remain an extremely dangerous public safety threat while the current production of non-pharmaceutical fentanyl continues,” the agency warns.

If the agency knows that overdoses are being driven by illicit fentanyl disguised as prescription opioids or heroin, why are doctors still being restricted and prosecuted for prescribing opioids for pain?

“In 2015 traffickers expanded the historical fentanyl markets as evidenced by a massive surge in the production of counterfeit tablets containing the drug, and manipulating it to appear as black tar heroin.”

Over two-thirds of the painkillers that are abused are bought, stolen or obtained for free from friends and relatives.

Despite the shifting nature of the opioid epidemic, government efforts to stop it continue to focus on punishing doctors who overprescribe and reducing patient access to opioids.

Source of Painkillers used Non-Medically

  • Friends or relatives 68%
  • Doctors 24%
  • Drug Dealers 4%
  • Other 4%

Source: DEA

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 52 Americans die every day from overdoses of prescription opioids, although the accuracy of its estimates has been questioned.

  1. Some deaths caused by heroin and illicit fentanyl are wrongly reported as prescription drug overdoses.
  2. Other deaths may have been counted twice.
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