Blog - An Alarming New Trend in Opioid Use

Sick man napping in car

A recent phenomenon observed in the US and reported widely by police on social media is the incidence of parents found in their car in public spaces, completely unconscious due to opioid (including heroin) abuse. In cases that have been reported, children have been found in the vehicle raising ire in defence of child protection, and critical of poor parenting. However, there is a rational, although rather perverse reasoning.

Recent reports from the US suggest the number of Americans suffering fatal overdose from powerful synthetic opioids has increased by 22% on 2015 data. This is due not just to the availability of drugs like fentanyl, but their inclusion in street doses of heroin. Fentanyl is about 1000 times more powerful than morphine, and its analogue, carfentanyl, is a further 1000 times more powerful than fentanyl. Carfentanyl has been reported in Australian emergency departments since 2016, although far less frequently than fentanyl.

By ‘powerful’ opioid, we mean that the subjective effect (for both pain relief and for the euphoria sought by addicts) is intense, leading to and reinforcing the addiction potential of these drugs. However, the opioids are also potent depressants of the respiratory reflex in the primitive hindbrain. There is a rapid tolerance that develops in users to the euphoric effect, requiring them to increase doses incrementally to maintain their desired effect. However, there is no tolerance developed to the respiratory depressive effects. Hence, anyone pursuing their opioid high will ultimately suffer overdose.

So what does this mean for parents who are found overdosed in vehicles? Quite simply, they understand that if they take these drugs at home, behind closed doors, their risk of death is enormous. They choose instead to take drugs in a public place so that they (and their children) can be rescued when they are discovered.

This demonstrates the absolute grip that drug addiction and misuse can hold on otherwise normal people. Workplace drug testing is a strategy to prevent these behaviours from putting workers and their colleagues at risk, but the road remains uphill.

Boilerplate John

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