Fentanyl Is Most Wanted Opioid Drug Among Younger Americans, Study Says

new study by Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health reported that regardless of the fentanyl-related deaths recorded every year in the U.S., a quarter of people who use drugs frequently on the streets prefer it over other opioids. 

Based on three cities in the East Coast where there is a rampant opioid use and high overdose rate, the researchers studied the overdose history, general drug use and the socio- demographics that formed this preference. 

Why is this preference a matter of grave concern today? According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the overdose of synthetic opioids, which mostly consists of illegal fentanyl, leading to death was up by 50 percent in 2016 from 14 percent in 2010. Simply put, that year recorded a jump to 19,413 deaths related to synthetic opioids from 3,007 in 2010. 

27 Percent of People Prefer Fentanyl

Exactly 308 people who had used heroin or prescription opioids six months earlier were recruited for the survey in Baltimore, Boston and Providence. The participants were all street-based people. Among them, 27 percent said they either somewhat agreed or strongly agreed that they preferred drugs with fentanyl. 

Shockingly, 92 percent of the people who admitted to a preference of fentanyl were daily users. The researchers gathered that fentanyl was part of the daily drug supply on the streets. The fact was determined by the rate of fentanyl usage that did not change with the daily users depending on their preferences and alternate drug choices.

This explains the comparison to 76 percent of people who did not prefer their drugs mixed with fentanyl, who were also daily users.  

opioid painkillers A young man, who said he is addicted to prescription medication, lies passed out in a public library in New London, CT, March 14, 2016. Getty Images/John Moore

Drug users who wanted fentanyl overdosed more than those who did not prefer the drug in the year before the study. Therefore, Susan Sherman, professor at the Department of Health, Behavior and Society, implied that the difference could be attributed to fentanyl being more fatal. 

Characteristics of the Drug Users

The characteristics of the users who wanted to abuse fentanyl were outlined in the study that was published recently in Drug and Alcohol Independence journal. Age and access to prescription opioids played an important role. 

It was thus observed that 59 percent of people who admitted to the preference belonged to the non-Hispanic white population with a median age of 38. In contrast, 29 percent of those people who did not look forward to their drugs with fentanyl were white. However, the median age was comparatively older at 45. 

Preference Is Based on Frequency

Fentanyl is considered the most potent pain-relieving opioid used to administer anesthesia before heart surgery, treat severe to moderate chronic pain, cancer-related pain and people who have developed tolerance to opioids. It can be administered through the spinal cord, intravenously or intramuscularly, according to Medical News Today.

And for repeat users, a transdermal patch for the substance to enter the bloodstream is administered. However, the study noted that none of these routes of administration had any impact on the preference, which was dictated only by the frequency of usage and availability. 

The aim of the study was not only to personally understand the incidences of overdose each participant had survived but also to know their interest in learning about the harmful content in their opioids. To meet this aim, Fentanyl Overdose Reduction Checking Analysis Study (FORECAST) was established in 2017 with the help of the researchers. "These findings will help us think about how best to target interventions to prevent opioid overdoses," Sherman said.