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How Fentanyl Replaced OxyContin in California’s Drug Epidemic

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The destruction of lives caused by fentanyl abuse is a national health crisis. The staggering number of fatal opioid overdoses in the U.S. reached 109,680 in 2022.  About 86% (5,942) of the deaths were fentanyl-related.  In California alone, opioid-related deaths rose 121% between 2019 and 2021.  Fentanyl was linked to the vast majority of those deaths.  As the California drug epidemic rages on, we have to wonder how fentanyl overtook OxyContin as the number one cause of preventable deaths in the state.  

The following timeline illustrates the rapid rise of fentanyl over other opioids as the drug of choice in California.

From OxyContin to Fentanyl: How Did It Happen?

California Drug EpidemicPeople have always wanted better ways to manage pain.  To meet that need, pharmaceutical companies such as Purdue Pharma, came out with several innovative new medications.  One of those new drugs, OxyContin, was approved for medical use in 1995.  Due to its addictive nature, OxyContin eventually became the drug of choice both legally and illicitly.  

First Wave of the California Drug Epidemic

The first wave of the drug epidemic in California became apparent in 1999 when an uptick in opioid overdoses began.  By 2003, the non-medical use of OxyContin was widespread with more than 2.8 million people using the drug for recreational purposes.  According to the FDA, this is a 600% increase in OxyContin abuse since 1999.

Second Wave of the Opioid Epidemic

In 2010, people who were addicted to OxyContin and other prescription opioids began switching to heroin.  The switch was due in part to the rising costs of prescription drugs.  This change marked the start of the second wave of the opioid epidemic, according to the CDC. 

Third Wave of the Opioid Epidemic

By 2013, fentanyl overdose deaths were on the rise.  Fentanyl is popular because it is cheaper and more potent than other opioids.  Devious drug dealers use fentanyl to lace other street drugs such as cocaine, heroin, meth, and opioids.  This tactic helps them increase profits and ensure repeat customers. 

Fentanyl became the primary cause of drug overdose deaths nationwide in 2021.  In California alone, 230 teenagers died as a result of fentanyl use.  Furthermore, the city of San Francisco reports that 406 people suffered accidental fentanyl overdoses that same year. 

Addressing the California Drug Epidemic

California is not alone in its battle with the opioid epidemic.  The combined efforts of many state, federal, and private agencies across the nation continue to fight substance use. 

In 2019 the state of California made a bold move.  The state filed a lawsuit that accuses Purdue Pharma of misleading physicians and patients about OxyContin’s addictive nature.

Overall, California will receive about $2 billion as a result of over 3,000 lawsuits filed by cities and counties nationwide.  This money will help the state fund drug education and prevention programs.  The programs strive to reduce the rate of addictions and overdoses in the state.

The Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, and his administration have spent more than $1 billion to address the California drug epidemic.  Here’s a breakdown of how the funds are utilized:

  • $570 million from federal grants will go toward enhancing services and programs for opioid use treatment and remediation.
  • $416 million from state funds will help expand MAT programs, improve naloxone availability, and fund drug-free workplace initiatives.
  • $133 million from settlement funds will be used for naloxone availability and education,  and public awareness campaigns.  

Additionally, law enforcement leaders want harsher penalties for the possession and dealing of fentanyl.  Examples of other opioid-related bills include a bill to approve fentanyl test strips at colleges.  Also, another bill calls for increased charges for fentanyl trafficking.  

Statewide campaigns for drug awareness and prevention in California are effective, but they need to be expanded.  For example, campaigns such as the Red Ribbon Campaign, the California MAT Expansion Project, and the Overdose Public Awareness Campaign are just a few methods being used to combat opioid use. 

Design for Change Recovery Helps Combat the California Drug Epidemic

One of the most effective ways to combat the drug epidemic is by helping people get effective addiction treatment.  To that end, Design for Change Recovery in Lancaster, CA provides the high-quality treatment people need to overcome fentanyl, opioid, and other addictions.  

People with substance use disorders typically need a full continuum of care that addresses the physical, mental, social, and spiritual aspects of addiction.  With this in mind, our programs are personalized for each client’s needs to ensure they get the right level of treatment.  We provide evidence-based practices that include the following:

Ultimately, fentanyl abuse will destroy your health and disrupt all aspects of your life.  But, you can fight back.  Your first line of defense is to contact Design for Change to begin your recovery journey right away.  You can reach us by phone, email, or online to speak with a treatment advisor.

Sources: – California’s Opioid Deaths Increased by 121% in 3 Years. What’s Driving the Crisis? – U.S. Drug Overdose Deaths Hit a Record in 2022 as Some States See a Big Surge – Understanding the Opioid Overdose Epidemic

How Fentanyl Replaced OxyContin in California’s Drug Epidemic