Heroin Isn’t The Scariest Part Of The Drug Crisis

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Heroin shows up on the front pages of newspapers almost every day. But when it comes to drug issues you should worry about, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. With issues on the table like needle-acquired infections, synthetic drugs and prescription abuse, there’s a lot more than street drugs to be afraid of.

(Design: Holly Warfield, Forbes staff)

(Design: Holly Warfield, Forbes staff)

In 2014 (the most recent year for which there’s data available), there were 10,574 heroin deaths in the U.S. But in the same year, deaths attributed to prescription opioids numbered 18,893 — itself a 16% increase over the prior year. That means prescription painkillers account for 40% of all drug poisoning deaths.

(Design: Holly Warfield, Forbes staff)

One possible reason for those numbers? More than 50% of patients with opioid prescriptions end up with leftover pills. Patients aren’t getting the information they need to safely store or dispose of a partially used prescription, which means those prescriptions are more and more available for abuse.

(Design: Holly Warfield, Forbes staff)

(Image: Kevin Winter/Getty Images, Design: Holly Warfield, Forbes staff)

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, has 50-100 times the potency of morphine, and 25-50 times that of heroin. It can even be mixed into heroin without the user knowing. The scariest part? It’s also available to anyone with a prescription. A fentanyl overdose is what famously killed Prince, and it’s alarmingly easy to do.

(Design: Holly Warfield, Forbes staff)

(Images: AP Photo/Kelley McCall, Shutterstock, Design: Holly Warfield, Forbes staff)

Fentanyl isn’t the only synthetic drug you should worry about, though. In July 2016, at least 130 people in New York overdosed on synthetic drug K2 in a single week. K2, sometimes known as Spice, has a stronger effect on cannabinoid receptors in the brain than marijuana—but without the plant’s calming properties.

(Design: Holly Warfield, Forbes staff)

(Design: Holly Warfield, Forbes staff)

For people trying to recover from opioid addictions, kratom has reportedly been a helpful option. Teas made from the plant’s leaves have milder, opioid-like effects, which some scientists are researching. What’s so scary? The DEA has threatened to ban the plant, and it still isn’t out of the woods with authorities.

(Design: Holly Warfield, Forbes staff)

(Image: Getty, Design: Holly Warfield, Forbes staff)

If it’s still just heroin you’re scared of, you might as well think about its effects on public health. Serious bloodstream and heart valve infections have skyrocketed recently among people who inject drugs. In fact, 16% of infectiveendocarditis cases are due to the injection of illicit drugs. Now that’s scary.

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