But OxyContin was to become ground zero in an opioid crisis that has now engulfed the United States.
142 fatal overdoses a day
The pill comprises oxycodone, a semi-synthetic opioid loosely related to morphine and originally based on elements of the opium poppy. Such strong painkillers were traditionally used to ease cancer pain, but beginning in the mids, pills based on oxycodone and the similar compound hydrocodone began being branded and aggressively marketed for chronic pain instead — a nagging back injury from manual labor or a car accident, for example. From to , Purdue more than doubled its sales force and distributed coupons so doctors could let patients try a day free supply of these highly addictive drugs.
Prescriptions issued for OxyContin in the US increased tenfold over those six years, from , a year to more than six million. The document also asserted that Purdue had played down the risks of addiction. By prescription opioids were killing 5, people a year in America and that number tripled over the following decade.
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One of the key regions of the US affected early in the crisis was central Appalachia, an area covering much of West Virginia and eastern Kentucky known for small towns, rolling hills and physically taxing industries, including coalmining, agriculture and lumber production. Even taken exactly as prescribed, they were addictive, blocking pain without treating its cause and reducing stress. But people also began grinding them up to snort or inject for a potent high. People with spurious pain complaints flocked to feed their own dependency or sell the pills on.
In , rightwing media blowhard Rush Limbaugh admitted he was hooked on opioids. Actor Heath Ledger had prescription opioids in his system, along with a cocktail of sedatives, when he was found dead in New York in at In the US government reported that deaths from prescription opioid overdoses had overtaken combined fatalities from heroin and cocaine.
The street-drug epidemic of crack in the 80s and early 90s wrought particular havoc among low-income, urban African Americans, while the sordid blight of backyard-cooked methamphetamine was at its height among more rural, white populations in the 90s and early 21st century. In contrast, the opioid crisis rippled out from neat pharmacy counters across broader income and geographical bands. The typical addict was most likely to be white, male and middle-aged, but the drug has a wide grip.
Gradually, the authorities began shutting down pill mills and warning health professionals and the public that opioids were far from a magic bullet. A new, even darker chapter unfolded: Fast forward to today and America is losing almost 1, people a week to drug overdoses. Two-thirds of those are opioid fatalities — with the pill problem still pervasive, but with a rising number of heroin and fentanyl deaths.
The death rates are highest in West Virginia , New Hampshire, Kentucky and Ohio, but the opioid epidemic has spread nationwide, as this map shows. In , renowned actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a heroin overdose in New York, after 23 years of sobriety. Last year Prince died when he overdosed on pills containing fentanyl — and the world suddenly became familiar with this synthetic narcotic being milled in Mexico from Chinese ingredients and rushed into the US illegal drug market.
The substance can be found in a variety of textures and sizes. It can appear in larger rock-like chunks or a gray powder substance.
What Is Gray Death?
Even in minuscule doses or with minimal contact, the effects of the drug are serious and can include immediate overdose. Experts are struggling to understand what this drug is exactly. Reports of gray heroin have been made since , but it was different from the current formulations seen today. One of the most frightening things about gray death is that the formulation differs from one batch to the next. In fact, 50 samples gathered in Georgia in the first half of show tremendous variation.
This new drug has appeared in several states in the eastern part of the country including Georgia, Alabama, Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania. What Drugs Are in Gray Death? Although there is no set or standardized recipe used to create gray death, several opioids are likely to be found in a sample.
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Gray death is powerful and cheap, for both buyers and manufacturers. Another reason for the appearance of drugs like gray death is that foreign chemists producing drugs overseas and sending them to the US can quickly change their formulations to evade US drug laws. The main victims of the rise of gray death are those addicted to opioids. These people may intend to purchase heroin but unintentionally consume gray death. Not only are opioid users affected, but those who treat victims can become victims themselves.
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First responders like EMTs and law enforcement officers are at risk if they come into contact with it. There have been reports of police overdosing with minimal contact. Later in his shift, the officer brushed the powder off with his hand. Unaware that he touched fentanyl, he began feeling the symptoms of overdose just 10 minutes later. With the inclusion of fentanyl, carfentanil, and U, gray death has the potential to be the deadliest drug on the street today. Someone trying to take the amount of heroin they are used to can die in minutes. Cases of overdoses and fatalaties from gray death are rising.
Gray Death: The New Killer on the Street
Fortunately, the same tools and methods used to reverse a heroin overdose can be used to reverse a gray death overdose, but the process is more challenging. A gray death overdose might require multiple doses of naloxone Narcan. Some people will need up to 10 doses to recover, 6 which can be a huge problem since family members or first responders may not have that amount on hand. Gray death is arguably one of the most concerning drugs when it comes to the risk of overdose, but it might not even be the worst we see.