The Healing Place

The Futility of Labeling Epidemics

The Futility of Labeling Epidemics

We’ve been hearing about the ‘war on drugs’ for decades now. Many of us can still remember as a young child waking up early on Saturday morning to watch cartoons and seeing the public service announcement that was designed to strike fear in the hearts of every child raised in the 80s: a man holding an egg and saying “This is your brain” then cracking the egg in a frying pan and delivering the ominous message: “This is your brain on drugs… any questions?” as the egg sizzled. 

Then there was the ‘Just Say No’ campaign sparked by former first lady Nancy Reagan. Growing up, ‘just say no’ seemed to be the obvious answer when the so-called bad people tried to push drugs on us. Back then, the war on drugs was centered on cocaine and crack cocaine. Fast-forward 30 years and we see the war on drugs has been a Sisyphean effort, except the boulder we seem to be pushing today is heroin. This is why it is futile to label epidemics. The drugs change, but we still fight the same war. It’s now clear that the trouble isn’t heroin. History has shown us that one thing has been consistent throughout the decades-long war on drugs – addiction.

Right now, heroin has the headlines. Before that it was methamphetamine being made next door in suburbia, cocaine and crack cocaine, and of course prescription drugs. Kentucky has the dubious distinction as the number one state for prescription drug abuse and created a law to combat that issue. However, it is also clear that the collateral effects of this law led us to today’s heroin epidemic. In other words, the players may change, but the underlying issue remains: addiction.

Even if we somehow eradicate all the poppy fields in the world and threw a parade proclaiming that we are a heroin-free country, the core issue of addiction would still stand. Studies at The Healing Place show that heroin addicts are few and far between. That’s because 99.5% of men and women who list heroin as their primary drug of addiction are poly-substance users, meaning they will use a variety of drugs on any given day. Only 0.5% of individuals who report heroin use are heroin-only users.

Even with all the attention as heroin is getting, I believe the heroin issue will begin to dissipate – just like all other substance abuse epidemics because a new wave is here – synthetic drugs. We are just starting to hear about this in the media, but synthetics are the way of the future and the primary reason for the dramatic increase in heroin overdoses we’re hearing about on the news.

It is estimated that there are 61,000 acres of poppy bring grown every day in Mexico alone. For producers, it makes more economical sense to produce a synthetic opioid in clandestine labs with much more financial reward and less risk. Consider this, it takes just a $6,000 investment to Chinese labs for the ingredients to create fentanyl – a synthetic opioid – that will net a dealer a profit of more than $1 million. The United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs estimates that these new psychoactive substances, a list that includes opioids, are emerging globally at a rate of one per week (Kamp & Campo-Flores, 2016). We are also seeing a continued surge in synthetic cannabinoids and methamphetamine. It’s simple, with synthetics, there is no need for hundreds of acres to grow crops, combat U.S. Border Control, etc. Let’s also remember that many of these substances are legal and sold at your local smoke shop before it is determined that they are dangerous and outlawed. It is not uncommon that a molecule will be changed making them legal again and thus putting them back on the shelf. It is truly and cat and mouse game between the FDA/DEA and chemists. These substances can simply be created in a lab, or a garage, and have a far superior strength and return on investment. Precursors for synthetics can be ordered online and conveniently delivered right to your door. In addition to fentanyl, it was also discovered that a synthetic opioid called Carfentanil was being found mixed with confiscated heroin in our region. Carfentanil is meant to be used as an elephant tranquilizer but can be purchased rather inexpensively online. Fentanyl can be up to 50 times stronger than heroin; Carfentanil can be up to 100 times the strength of Fentanyl. Both are nearly impossible to properly measure outside of a laboratory setting. This means dealers make risky assessments when mixing these opioids with heroin.

Through all the madness and the war on drugs, alcohol has somehow gotten a pass – never mind that it is responsible for twice as many deaths annually as all illicit drugs combined. Alcohol is still king.

The stark truth is regardless of the drug of the moment, the real epidemic is and always has been addiction. We abuse drugs and alcohol to fill a void. When the drug is removed, that void will be filled by either another drug, destructive behavior, or – for the fortunate – a program of recovery. Thank God for a solution.

Kamp, J., & Campo-Flores, A. (2016, November 7). This is U-47700, once a lab experiment, now a killer opioid. Retrieved from