*According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, synthetic opioids are now the drugs most commonly involved in the United States. As of 2017, nearly 60 percent of opioid overdoes were caused by fentanyl-compared to only 14,3 percent in 2003.
Oftentimes, certain social ills are purposefully overstated in order to scare folks into compliance, but fentanyl is exactly what they said it was, death incarnate.
Recently, EURweb had the chance to discuss this ongoing scourge, as well as what factors are contributing to its growing popularity, with Peter Piraino, CEO of Burning Tree Programs treatment facilities.
EURweb.com: How long has fentanyl been a problem in the United States? It seemed to come out of nowhere.
Peter Piraino: As far back as 2009 we saw fentanyl being abused. It was a prescribed medication and just like Percocet and Vicodin, people started using it on the street because it was much stronger.
At least in Texas, we noticed that it became a drug of choice, where people were solely using and abusing fentanyl, around 2017.
Fentanyl is driving the overdose epidemic steadily up. Fentanyl is extremely deadly so we’re seeing overdose and death raise to record rates.
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EURweb: Briefly, please described Burning Tree Programs and its treatment methodology.
Peter Piraino: The Burning Tree program was formed in 1999. We have three separate facilities. Our flagship facility is burning tree ranch. That is an eight to fourteen-month residential program.
Followed by a year of aftercare. The entire program is built on progress.
There is no discharge date. We keep people until they’re well and we don’t keep them any longer. That program is built for chronic relapsers, people who have been in a treatment program five, six, seven times or more, and have not been successful.
That program is centered on high accountability, 12-step emersion, and lots and lots of clinical work. We believe it works because we’re able to help the most helpless.
People come along whose families have given up on them, treatment centers have given up on them, doctors and psychologists have given up on them.
At Burning Tree Ranch, 79.8 percent of the people who complete our program maintain long-term sobriety of five years or more.
EURweb: That success rate is very strong. What do you feel is behind it?
Peter Piraino: When a person comes to Burning Tree, we don’t just treat the person. We treat the whole family. So, members of the family have to be willing to engage in treatment. They have to come with family and they have to follow our guidelines. We’re really treating the addiction at a family and societal level.
We’re able to provide the client with a level of accountability that they normally wouldn’t get. Meaning that their entire support system is on board and everybody is speaking the same language. The whole mission is the client’s success, and that’s what we’re all driving toward together.
EURweb: What do you think is causing it to be so readily available on the street over the past decade or so?
Peter Piraino: This may not be a popular answer but a lot of it is coming in over the border. It’s pretty well accepted that fentanyl is manufactured and produced in China and shipped over the U.S. It usually comes through Mexico into the southern states.
So it hits Texas first, just like it hits Arizona first. It’s more readily available here, it’s cheaper because there’s less supply chain, and as it goes through the country it gets more and more expensive. It’s widely abused in Texas and my feeling is it’s mainly due to ease of access.
EURweb: When people think of fentanyl being mixed with other drugs, marijuana seldom comes to mind. However, there have been increased instances of people overdosing from the mixing of the two.
Peter Piraino: I think there are a bunch of different categories, and this is where it gets confusing. There are people who say that marijuana gets shipped with fentanyl and there’s accidental overflow.
People are getting marijuana with fentanyl and they don’t know it. Sometimes what you’re seeing is, the drug dealers on the street, because fentanyl is so cheap and addictive, are missing it with different substances.
Cocaine, benzodiazepines, sometimes marijuana. It has become more apparent but, most of the time, I do not think it’s accidental cross-contamination.
I had a friend that I knew who was prescribed medical marijuana and he ran out, brought some marijuana off the street, died of a fentanyl overdose. So, it does happen. Obviously, he wasn’t out there trying to get fentanyl, he was just trying to hold himself over until his next prescription came through.
I think that people who are mixing fentanyl with other products, I feel like they don’t understand the risk that they’re putting people at. I don’t know how much of it is just callousness or a lack of knowledge about how deadly the substance is and the fact that, if you put just a little bit too much into your cocaine or a little too much into whatever it is that you’re making, you’re going to kill people en masse.
They are killing people due to trying to increase profits and lack of knowledge.
EURweb: Do you think United States drug policy is sufficient enough to combat this?
Peter Piraino: I’m originally from New York and I moved to Texas. I thought I understood the border, but then I got here and was like ‘Oh my God!’ What I do like is that the Biden administration is trying to normalize people getting help.
Even the Trump administration had some real strides. Oddly enough, both parties are speaking the same language, which seems to never happen.
What I think we need to do a better job of is stopping it from coming into the country. I don’t have any answers on that, but I think we are falling short on that.