Tomorrow (September 1st) marks the 2-month anniversary of the startling and untimely death of 27 year old Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs. With no cause of death revealed at the site, we had to wait until a toxicology report to figure out why.
The toxicology report came in today, and according to the coroner, Skaggs choked on his own vomit after accidentally overdosing on a solution of alcohol, oxycodone, and fentanyl. As unfortunate as the situation is, it does ultimately shed some light on one of the larger issues in our country: the Opioid Epidemic.
In 2016, more than 42,000 people died overdosing on opiates; 40% of which came based from a prescription medication being misused. In 2017, a Public Health Emergency was declared by the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). According to HHS, 47,600 people passed away from usage of opiates in 2016, roughly 128 people in a single day on average. 11.4 million in 2016 misused prescription medication and became addicted to opiates. 81,000 people used heroin for the first time (886,000 overall; 15,482 of which passed away). This started to gain some attention with many celebrities speaking out on the issue, including Theory of a Deadman, who got their third number one hit with the song 'medicate' in 2017, that honed in on the Epidemic.
Now That We’ve Seen The Numbers, Why Is It Happening?
The Opioid Crisis began in the late ’90s, when doctors and health providers began to give out prescriptions to medication that used opiates at a much higher rate than in the past. Pharmacies guaranteed consumers that it would not risk patients becoming more addicted to the drug, but this was proven untrue when more people started to drop like flies. A visual rate of change since the late 1990s is shown below:
The interesting tidbit is that if you look at the rate of deaths due to the epidemic in different states, the highest is West Virginia. This is intriguing to me because West Virginia has the highest percentage of citizens on disability (8.9) in the country, thus likelier to prescribe more opiate medication than a state such as Nevada (3.8). Second on the list is Alabama (8.6). Statistically, Alabama has prescribed the most opiates in the Nation. West Virginia had the highest ratio of deaths caused by drugs in 2015.
I absolutely believe this correlates because the more people that misuse the medication are more likely to become so addictive to the opiate that the high nor trip is nearly as effective as it when you first start the medication. The more you need the trip, the more hardcore you get into drugs off the street. There are 3-mainstream levels of commercial opiates: heroin (the well-known one that is awful for you, but rather difficult to overdose on), fentanyl (the drug used here) and carfentanyl (absolutely deadly. The quantitative potency is 10,000 times stronger than morphine, according Pubchem.com).
Statistically speaking, 98% of people who overdose on fentanyl don’t even know they’re taking fentanyl, because street dealers place it in things such as off-brand prescription medications and drugs such as cocaine, heroin and meth, to make the high stronger and potentially make more money off of it. I’d assume that’s what happened here with Skaggs if the oxycodone wasn’t prescribed, but obviously it’s not my place to assume. This is, however, the case in a death such as Prince in 2016. Half of opiate deaths include fentanyl, most unknowingly, Dr. Compton of NIDA discusses in a video below. Fentanyl is easy to cut and place in anything, and it’s cheap.
Opiates can be extremely useful if used responsibly, however, in most cases it isn’t. The epidemic needs to be a narrative that’s pushed out there more by the media because it is an everyday, real world crisis that is stemming completely out of control and if the last 20-25 years are any indication, it will only get worse from here.
You can read our original report of Skaggs passing here.
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All statistics not credited to a source come from CDC.gov.
Photo Credit: USAToday