Home » Alarming Shift: Smoking Drugs Now Leads Over Injecting in U.S. Overdose Deaths

Alarming Shift: Smoking Drugs Now Leads Over Injecting in U.S. Overdose Deaths

by Jose Aviles

Recent findings reveal that smoking drugs has now overtaken injecting as the predominant method of drug intake leading to fatalities. [Source]

This revelation, detailed in a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), underscores a significant change in substance abuse and its fatal outcomes.

The study, heralded as the most extensive of its kind delves into the methods of drug consumption that resulted in fatalities across the nation.

Lauren Tanz, the study’s lead author and a distinguished CDC scientist specializing in overdose research, highlighted the significance of this shift.

“Some early research has suggested that smoking fentanyl is somewhat less deadly than injecting it, and any reduction in injection-related overdose deaths is a positive,” Tanz explained. 

However, Tanz cautioned, “both injection and smoking carry a substantial overdose risk,” indicating the complexity of addressing overdose deaths regardless of the method of drug intake. [Source]

Fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid, has been at the forefront of the U.S. overdose crisis, primarily due to its illegal manufacturing and distribution.

This drug, often mixed into heroin and other substances, has become a notorious contributor to the surge in overdose deaths, which saw a slight increase in 2022 following significant spikes during the pandemic.

The transition from injecting to smoking fentanyl—a method involving heating the drug on tin foil or in a glass pipe to inhale its vapors—represents a noteworthy shift in consumption habits.

The allure of smoking fentanyl, as opposed to injecting it, lies in its perceived benefits.

Alex Kral, a researcher with RTI International who studies drug users in San Francisco, shared insights into the mindset of individuals who prefer smoking.

“People who inject often deal with pus-filled abscesses on their skin and risk infections with hepatitis and other diseases,” Kral noted, underscoring the health complications associated with injection. 

The CDC’s analysis, leveraging a national database of death certificates, toxicology reports, and coroner findings, paints a stark picture of the evolving overdose epidemic.

Between early 2020 and late 2022, the proportion of overdose deaths attributed to smoking rose by 74%, while those linked to injection fell by 29%.

This study, drawing on data from the District of Columbia and 27 states, indicates a broad and concerning trend across the country, with smoking becoming the most prevalent route of drug use in overdose deaths in the West and Midwest.

Despite these findings, the study acknowledges the challenges in accurately determining the method of drug consumption leading to overdose deaths. Kral also pointed out the difficulty in distinguishing between the methods of drug use, especially in the absence of witnesses or physical evidence.

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