Because lack of human connection reduces the interaction of endogenous opioids in the human brain, the loneliness epidemic colliding with a saturated pharmaceutical opioid market was a perfect storm for addiction. Millions of people became dependent on and bonded to prescription painkillers. The most recent study shows that 44% of Americans personally know someone who has been addicted to some kind of opioid.
In response, the US government created increasingly strict regulations to limit prescriber protocols for opioid painkillers. Since the loneliness epidemic only continued to worsen during this time, demand for synthetic opioids to supplement endogenous opioid production did not decrease. So as prescription painkillers became more and more difficult to procure legally, it became more economical for millions of Americans who were bonded to opioids to purchase heroin on the prohibition market.
Prohibition markets often narrow to the most potent form of the prohibited chemical. The Iron Law of Prohibition states that “the more intense the law enforcement, the more potent the prohibited substance becomes. When drugs or alcoholic beverages are prohibited, they will become more potent, will have greater variability in potency, will be adulterated with unknown or dangerous substances, and will not be produced and consumed under normal market constraints.”
So, much like liquor became more prevalent than beer during the 1920s alcohol prohibition, super-potent opioids like fentanyl and its analogs have become more common under modern opioid prohibition. They are often mixed with products sold as heroin on the street, and as the number of heroin users continues to grow in this perfect storm collision with the loneliness epidemic, overdose death rates have sky-rocketed in recent years.
It is now estimated that nearly 130 people die every day from opioid-related overdoses. In 2017, more than 72,000 Americans lost their lives to drug overdoses – more than 70% of those related to opioids. Overdose deaths now account for more unintentional fatalities every year than automobile accidents.
Morgue infrastructure is starting to fail in multiple cities due to the sheer number of dead bodies flooding the system. The economic toll of opioid crisis is believed to have exceeded $1 trillion from 2001 to 2017.
Between 1999 and 2016, more than 630,000 people died from a drug overdose in the United States. The current epidemic of drug overdoses began in the 1990s with overdose deaths involving prescription opioids, driven by dramatic increases in prescribing of opioids for chronic pain. In 2010, rapid increases in overdose deaths involving heroin marked the second wave of opioid overdose deaths. The third wave began in 2013, when overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids, particularly those involving illicitly manufactured fentanyl, began to increase significantly. In addition to deaths, nonfatal overdoses from both prescription and illicit drugs are responsible for increasing emergency department visits and hospital admissions.