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What is the 4th wave of the opioid epidemic? Fentanyl and stimulant overdose deaths on the rise

The opioid epidemic has progressed through various phases over the decade decades. Experts are calling the current stage of the crisis the 4th wave.

The opioid epidemic has progressed through various phases over the past two decades. Experts are calling the current stage of the crisis the 4th wave.

The CDC estimates that between April 2022 and the same month this year, deaths from drug overdose surpassed 111,000 people in the US for the first time. Experts are using a term popularized during the COVID-19 pandemic to describe the current phase of the opioid epidemic: the fourth wave.

When did the fourth wave begin?

Researchers at UCLA, Joseph Friedman and Chelsea L. Shover, took a deep dive into this most recent wave to better understand how quickly drug use trends shift and how sometimes those rapid changes lead to a greater number of deaths. That has absolutely been the case with the introduction of fentanyl to a wider group of users, many of whom were previously addicted to heroin.

The wave began before the novel coronavirus appeared, but the pandemic played a considerable role in supercharging the US’ already epidemic-level opioid crisis. Economic distress, anxiety, depression, and loneliness were felt by many, and some turned to drugs to cope. The crisis has become more deadly as fentanyl has entered the country’s drug supply. Over the last decade, drug deaths from Fentanyl, with and without stimulants, quickly became the most common, killing ten in every 100,000 people in the US, compared to still-lethal heroin, which kills less than one.

Often, those who die from stimulant and fentanyl overdose do not realize that there are traces of the latter drug in the former. Cocaine and methenamine are the stimulants most often associated with fentanyl overdoses. In 2021, all fentanyl deaths accounted for over two-thirds of all drug overdoses, and what is concerning to public health experts is that those from fentanyl alone are increasing. This means that a growing number of people are seeking out fentanyl on its own, a dangerous development in an already catastrophic period of the epidemic.

Drug overdoses are decreasing life expectancy in the US

A study conducted by researchers at the Division of Overdose Prevention of the CDC uncovered smoking fentanyl as the most common form of ingesting the drug. This brings public health experts no solace as smoking the drug is just as dangerous as injecting it, and it could expand the appeal to those who had been unwilling to go near needles. The same report also found that men made up nearly three-quarters of overdose deaths, and those between the ages of twenty-five and forty-four represented half of all deaths. Drug overdoses have become so common in the US and with victims so young, that life expectancy has begun to fall.