The Ongoing Opioid Crisis

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Previously, the opioid crisis was discussed in relation to fentanyl when comparing the best gloves suited for first responders. We have briefly discussed fentanyl, but at large, it is a byproduct of the ongoing opioid crisis in the United States. This blog article will give a further overview of the ongoing opioid crisis.

So far there have been three waves to the opioid crisis in the United States according to the CDC (Center for Disease Control). The first wave arose in 1991 when deaths involving opioids rose, correlated by a sharp increase in the prescribing of opioid and opioid-combination medications for treating symptoms of pain. Pharmaceutical companies and medical professionals claimed that the risk of addiction to prescription opioids was very low, thus medication prescribers pushed for increased opioid prescriptions. Following the introduction of opioids as pain relievers for cancer patients, pharmaceutical companies also began to promote the use of opioids in patients with non-cancer related pain even though there was a lack of data regarding the risks and benefits in these patients (History of the Opioid Crisis, Poison Control). By 1999, 86% of patients using opioids were using them for non-cancer related pain (History of the Opioid Crisis, Poison Control).


The second wave occurred in 2010, as mapped by the CDC. There was a rapid rise in heroin related deaths. This was a direct cause of medication prescribers restricting the distribution of opioid prescriptions in an effort to curb opioid prescription abuse. However, people turned to illegal and cheaper methods of obtaining fentanyl. Heroin is a cheaper and widely available potent opioid that many turned to. Deaths related to heroin overdose increased by 286% from 2002 to 2013, and approximately 80% of heroin users admitted to misusing prescription opioids before turning to heroin (History of the Opioid Crisis, Poison Control).

The third and current wave of the opioid crisis involves synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl. The CDC reports that this wave began in 2013. To give a recap from the previous article, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid which can be used as an anesthetic. The CDC warns the substance is 100 times more potent than heroin. While illegally synthesized fentanyl is more dangerous and linked more directly to the increase in fentanyl related deaths, the United States faces widespread prescription abuse of pharmaceutical fentanyl as well. Fentanyl can easily be absorbed through skin contact, oral inhalation, or ingestion. Skin exposure to powdered or dry forms of fentanyl is not likely to cause overdoses in small amounts if promptly removed. Liquid or highly concentrated fentanyl can be absorbed rapidly via skin contact and can be extremely fatal. The sharpest rise in drug-related deaths occurred in 2016 with over 20,000 deaths from fentanyl and related drugs (History of the Opioid Crisis, Poison Control). As for 2022, The Drug Enforcement Administration said in December it seized far greater quantities of illicit fentanyl than ever before in the year last. There is hope though, with new laws being implemented to support those affected by the opioid crisis. The Biden administration announced new rules that will make it easier for many patients to access methadone and buprenorphine, medications proven to help patients avoid opioid relapses. Yet, despite the many legislative reforms to ameliorate the lives of those affected with opioid -especially most currently, fentanyl – addiction, this toxic drug still persists in the US.


Therefore, it is still imperative that first responders and medical personnel have proper personal protective equipment (PPE). SW offers many different disposable nitrile gloves. We offer three that specifically cater to the needs of first responders/EMS providers that were touched upon in the previous sections of this blog post. These would be our PowerForm Nitrile Exam Gloves with EnerGel®, EcoTek® and Breach Alert® (PF-95GW), PowerForm Nitrile Exam Gloves with DriTek® and EcoTek® (PF-95GY), and our MegaMan Sustainable Nitrile Exam Gloves with DriTek® and EcoTek® (MM-11BK) gloves. First and foremost, all three of these gloves are fentanyl resistant and contain SW’s EcoTek technology. The fentanyl resistant label is certified through rigorous clinical testing, following the American Society of Testing and Materials’ (ASTM) D6978 Standard Practice for Assessment of Resistance of Medical Gloves to Permeation by Chemotherapy Drugs. The tests have determined the gloves to be resistant up to 4 hours and were also tested against simulated gastric acid. They all have FDA 501(k) clearance and are NFPA 1999 certified, following the strict protocols of both institutions. With the proper protection, medical professionals can administer necessary care for those who have come into contact with fentanyl.