Synthetic opioids rise in popularity despite grave dangers of abuse

(Photo: WKRN)
(Photo: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – They’re drugs that are supposed to be used to help ease pain after a surgery or serious injury— they’re only meant to be used briefly.

But synthetic opioids are being abused more and more, causing major problems to those who become addicted, killing some and ruining others’ lives.

But even with this knowledge, why do they continue to gain popularity and how are they impacting our state?

“It’s not worth it,” said Lindsay McDonald as she spoke about using synthetic opioids. “It is not worth it at all.”

Lindsay McDonald (Photo: WKRN)
Lindsay McDonald (Photo: WKRN)

Addiction takes control of your life and it’s a disease McDonald has been living with for 10 years.

“When I was on drugs, almost all morals went out the window,” she said. “I would rob people for money for my drugs.”

That was a person Lindsay didn’t know, but that’s who was ruining her life, ruining relationships, and costing her more than she knew at the time.

“I feel like I have lost that mother gene and that is what is hardest about all of it. I feel like I have forgotten how to be a mother to my child,” said McDonald. “I missed her entire childhood.”

For McDonald, like so many others, it started with pain pills.

She then moved to heroin, but once she got help and was almost clean, she then turned to synthetic opioids drugs.

Dr. Marshall Hall is very familiar with them all.

“The synthetic we see most is Fentanyl, and it is a very high potency medication,” said Dr. Hall.

Dr. Brent Vaziri has also seen the drugs popularity continue to rise.

“We are seeing an increase in overdoses in synthetics in particular especially illicitly made fentanyl,” said Dr. Hall.

(Photo: WKRN)
(Photo: WKRN)

“It is a pain medication,” he noted. “That is the legitimate use for it, but we see it in a recreational or abuse setting frequently as well.”

According to the CDC, overdose deaths related to synthetic opioids – specifically Fentanyl and Tramadol – are on the rise in recent years.

Data shows that in 2014, Tennessee had 132 deaths, and in 2015, those numbers jumped to 251 deaths.

“The person I had gotten them from was like, ‘There is no way to test it,’” McDonald told News 2.

She made the switch to synthetics while in a drug court treatment program run by Judge Casey Moreland.

“The synthetics are what they are going to once they are under the supervision of a probation officer or they are being tested because the synthetics are much harder to detect,” said Judge Moreland.

(Photo: WKRN)
(Photo: WKRN)

But when you get these drugs off the street, you never know what you’re getting.

“We have addicts that are being pharmacists; they are mixing these drugs,” said Moreland.

And when the drugs are mixed or the dosage is unknown, the results can be deadly.

“Often times I will talk to patients after they have overdosed and they never know exactly how much they are getting because it is off the streets,” said Dr. Hall.

As the epidemic continues, the battle wages on against these horrible drugs.

It’s being fought in the courtrooms, in hospitals, and between families, but the biggest battle is inside the addicts themselves.

“My drug addiction has been going on for 10 years now,” said McDonald. “It’s not worth it.”

While it can be difficult to catch these synthetic opioids when drug testing, Judge Moreland says they are now more knowledgeable about how to catch addicts who continue to use these horrible drugs.