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Why is heroin and fentanyl use on the rise?

Opioid use, including heroin and fentanyl, is on the rise in California. In 2017 alone, experts estimate that California lost 2,000 lives due to opioid overdose, with the nation losing an additional 48,000.

With drug education classes having covered the dangers of heroin for years, many are wondering how this substance has managed to make a comeback.

The opioid epidemic

Heroin and fentanyl are known as “street drugs.” While these are illegal to manufacture, sell and possess, they produce similar effects to legal opioids, such as Oxycontin and Vicodin. When the time mechanism of these prescription opioids is broken, the effects of the drugs can be experienced all at once, creating a sense of euphoria that’s almost identical to that of heroin or fentanyl.

These positive feelings are what help make opioids so addictive. Many experts believe that people may become addicted to prescription opioids first and later switch to heroin or fentanyl as a cheaper alternative.

An easy fix

There’s also an affordable fix to the risks that come with opioid use. Naloxone (name brand Narcan) is an affordable nasal spray that can quickly and easily be used to reverse a narcotic overdose. Narcan has the highest success rate of countering an overdose. It works within minutes and can reverse or prevent overdose for a half hour to an hour after it is used.

However, users who depend on it may still lose their life if Narcan isn’t administered soon enough or if the opioid’s effect has a longer duration of action than one hour. But, the idea of having an easy fix can make it more difficult for those with an addiction to stop using.

Addiction

Addiction is considered a disease of the brain and body by most medical associations. This is because addiction changes the functionality of both. The body rewards patients for engaging in the addiction by releasing dopamine. Conversely, patients are met with the negative effects of withdrawal if they choose to stop using. This cycle propels users to continue engaging in their addiction in favor of its immediate rewards while ignoring the potential consequences.

Proposition 47

In California, Proposition 47 does not allow a defendant to be sentenced to prison for simple heroin possession if there were no prior convictions. Additionally, the fine imposed for the possession may only be up to $70. This can keep users from fearing their first conviction, which may consequentially end in an addiction that leads to subsequent convictions. Addiction may also lead to other charges for theft or violence, in some situations.

In an effort to stop these factors from encouraging the public to use these dangerous drugs, Proposition 36 was made to allow non-violent offenders to attend a treatment program in place of other punishments.

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