How does drug purity affect the potential for overdose associated with the use of “street” opiates (e.g., heroin)? Please provide examples in your discussion and cite.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The short answer to this question is that drug purity increases the risk of overdose when drugs are being mixed with other drugs.

Before delving deeper into the answer to your question, let’s just review some definitions so we’re working from the same foundation. Opiates are a group of drugs...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

The short answer to this question is that drug purity increases the risk of overdose when drugs are being mixed with other drugs.

Before delving deeper into the answer to your question, let’s just review some definitions so we’re working from the same foundation. Opiates are a group of drugs that derive from the flowering opium plant. Examples of opiates include heroin, codeine, and morphine. These are all naturally derived from the opium plant.

Opiates belong to the larger drug group called opioids. Opioids include any drugs that connect to the brain’s opioid receptors. Opioids are powerfully addictive because they connect with parts of the brain that inhibit feelings of pain and boost feelings of pleasure. Opioids, such as the opiate subcategory, can be naturally derived from the opium plant; they can also be synthetic, meaning that they are produced in a laboratory. High doses of opioids can affect your breathing and heart rate, ultimately causing death if there is an overdose.

Drug purity affects the potential for overdose associated with the use of street opiates, like heroin, because users don’t know what they are actually ingesting. Various studies show that there is a moderate relationship between drug purity and risk of overdose.

Drug purity cannot be entirely blamed for deaths resulting from overdose, however. A good article for you to read, and possibly to cite in your answer, is “Three persistent myths about heroin use and overdose deaths” by Australia’s National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre. It’s clearly written and organized, pointing out that fixing all blame on drug purity issues can become an oversimplified answer. Many substances in adulterated drugs are harmless. The real danger is when multiple drugs are used at once.

This is the underlying reason why drug purity can result in overdose. If an opiate like heroin is laced with a synthetic drug such as fentanyl, for example, the impact on the body can be fatal. Fentanyl is fifty times more potent than heroin, and one hundred times more potent than morphine. It’s a powerful drug that is much easier to overdose on than heroin.

If drug purity means that the opiate drug is being mixed with other drugs, such as fentanyl or other synthetic (not naturally derived) opioids, then the potential for overdose is much higher.

Further Reading:

This 2018 study, published by the US National Library of Medicine, looking at pure (“raw”) versus adulterated (“scramble”) heroin in Baltimore may be helpful for you to cite in your answer: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6114137/

The article by Australia's National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre that I mentioned can be found here: https://ndarc.med.unsw.edu.au/blog/three-persistent-myths-about-heroin-use-and-overdose-deaths

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team