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Fentanyl May Contribute to “Global Opioid Epidemic”


Fentanyl has risen in popularity as a frequently used and abused drug over the past couple of years, which leads Stanford University psychiatry professor Keith Humphreys to wonder if it has the potential to “permanently alter illegal drug markets and international relations along with them” (2018; Kim, 2018).

In Foreign Affairs magazine, Humphreys and coauthors note that the “world is on the cusp of a global opioid epidemic” (Humphreys, Caulkins, & Felbab-Brown, 2018) because of several reasons, one of which being that Big Pharma is abandoning marketing to the United States in the wake of the opioid epidemic and taking their wares abroad to places like Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East (Kim, 2018). Additionally, fentanyl is contributing to this because of its easily-manufactured nature and its having no reliance on the opium poppy like other highly abused drugs. Humphreys writes that “A small gang with a single talented chemist can thus economically undercut poppy-based opioid production” and that it has little chance of being detected through the mail, avoiding the need for the smuggling that opium-based drugs like hydrocodone, morphine, heroin, and oxycodone are reliant on (2018).

Because fentanyl is much more potent than the aforementioned opioids, and with how easy it is to ship, or how easy it is for chemists to set up shop “in the countries in which they’re meant to be sold,” Humphreys urges international governments to “rethink the role that fighting drug trafficking plays in their foreign policies,” “take aggressive steps to regulate the sale and marketing of opioids,” and “couple efforts to treat individuals with efforts to curb supply” to avoid this impending worldwide crisis (Humphreys, 2018; Kim, 2018).

Humphreys, K. (2018). How fentanyl could alter global drug policy. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/05/22/how-synthetic-opioids-could-alter-global-drug-policy/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.842c98268daf
Humphreys, K., Caulkins, J. P., & Felbab-Brown, V. (2018). Opioids of the masses: Stopping an American epidemic from going global. Foreign Affairs. Retrieved from https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/world/2018-04-16/opioids-masses
Kim, V. (2018). Fentanyl could uproot traditional drug trade. Retrieved from https://www.thefix.com/fentanyl-could-uproot-traditional-drug-trade