How a Reddit forum became a lifeline for opiate addicts in the US (2023)

Reddit is the modern-day canary in the coal mine for residents of Appalachia – a region of the United States disproportionately affected by the opioid epidemic.

Since the presidential election, the Reddit forum has announced itselfr/opiateturned into a lifeline for addicts navigating a minefield often filled with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid almost100 timesstronger than morphine.

In 2017 alone, r/opiates introduced warnings for fentanylNew York,Delaware,Virginia,MassachusettseNorth Carolina. These warnings, which signal the presence of fentanyl in certain drug batches, make a difference, moderator Spinderella69 said in a private message.

(Video) How A Reddit Forum Has Become A Lifeline To Opioid Addicts In The Us
100 days in the Appalachians

“I remember seeing comments on other notices we posted that people in these areas were seeing said brands and then avoiding them, or comments that friends had overdosed on the same brands, confirming that whatever was on the brand/medicine was extremely powerful and dangerous,” said spinerella69, who appreciates the pseudo-anonymity woven into Reddit's ethos and declined to reveal his identity.

R/opiates are not for the faint of heart. To date, the subreddit has amassed over 37,000 subscribers representing the entire spectrum of addiction –regular users, addicteddesperate to get clean, and all thatbetween.

Just last month, a post from a user who experienced it was presentedold opium pills, another tauntbe illand a short obituary for the moderator who passed away on May 31stfrom overdosepossibly involving fentanyl.

One person who was directly affected by r/opiates was Aaron, 27, of McDowell County, West Virginia. Aaron, who faces legal issues related to drug trafficking and abuse, has withheld his real name for fear of arrest.

Aaron's descent into addiction began at the age of 13, when he abused the pain reliever hydrocodone. A few years later, his father was prescribed oxycodone after breaking his back in an accident.

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"I went into his room, broke one into four pieces and ate one," Aaron said. “About five minutes later, I was in pure bliss. Warm waves flooded my body. I decided to take another piece and then dozed off.”

By age 20, Aaron was inhaling five to eight OxyContin 30 mg a day. Since then, he has tried almost every drug imaginable and has tried suboxone and methadone to detox without success. Today, he has been sober for more than 80 days thanks to kratom, a plant that the Drug Enforcement Agencyonceconsidered making a Schedule 1 drug (a schedule that currently includes heroin).

“I believe that in my area a lot of people use [opioids] out of boredom. No work, no way to entertain yourself other than video games and riding ATVs and motorcycles. You have nowhere to go but a run-down strip mall in another district," Aaron said. "Episodes are much more expensive, $35 to $50 for 30 mg of OxyContin. A lot of people need two to get through the day, and a lot of people don't want to wake up with torment, so they are willing to steal, rob or kill to get the drug. Crack has made some people sick, but not like the sickness from the pills."

Aaron credits opiates with helping him learn about kratom and giving him meaning in life. As a way of fighting back, he issued fentanyl warnings in West Virginia.

"People are pressing fake 215 and crushing ginseng pills, mixing them with fentanyl and the like and selling them as heroin," wrote Aaron, who goes by the name Optimistic-angel1 on Reddit, in 2Februarypost on the website - noting activity in neighboring Mercer County, which is east of McDowell.

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While overdose warnings on Reddit may be a new trend, addicts are no strangers to sharing information, said Dr. Michael Brumage, executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston, West Virginia Health Department. Brumage has heard of addicts in the past creating networks to share information about bad amounts of heroin while working in the department's needle exchange program.

"While we don't directly test for fentanyl, we are finding an increase in the amount of fentanyl mixed with heroin through patient questions and police reports," Brumage said. "We're even seeing reports of fentanyl-laced marijuana, which is a new and dangerous discovery."

These fentanyl warnings are reaching more opioid users on Reddit than ever before. Since November, the number of r/opiate users has increased by 42%. This number reflects a two-fold increase in user growth compared to the same time period since 2014.

The strength of fentanyl has been linked to an increase in overdoses across the country. Between 2005 and 2014, the rate of opioid-related hospitalizations increased by 64%, while the rate of emergency room visits nearly doubled, according to the studynew reportfrom the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). A closer look at Appalachia and surrounding counties proves that this deadly trend continues.

Montgomery County in western Ohio has seen more than400 people dieoverdoses this year alone, while West Virginia has been hit so hard that the state's funeral assistance program for poor familiesalmost without money. In 2015, the state with the highest rate of overdose deaths was West Virginia (41.5 per 100,000 people), according tocenter for disease control and prevention. Other Appalachian states rounding out the top five are Kentucky (29.9 per 100,000) and Ohio (29.9 per 100,000).

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At the heart of why West Virginia remains a hotbed for overdoses is the state's over-reliance on industries like coal mining and high unemployment, Business Insiderreported. The country also urgently needs better support for substance abuse. In 2015, West Virginia had just 750 drug rehab beds for a population of 60,000 people identified as needing treatment, Charleston Gazette-Mailreported. For many of these addicts, opiates became a lifeline in a worsening storm.

Salvation is exactly what Dustin Cinnamon of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky was looking for in opiatesLast summer.

An opioid addict for a decade, Cinnamon was on the verge of turning himself in on a 2013 drug possession charge that went down the drain. Knowing how lonely his five-month prison sentence would be, Cinnamon asked opiate users to send him letters (he received one). He also weaned himself off heroin using suboxone to ease withdrawal symptoms.

Launched in March, Cinnamon almost immediately took part in theStudy at the University of Kentuckyin opioids. He earned about $5,400 for the six weeks he spent in the studio. Each day, Cinnamon would agree to swallow either a placebo or a non-FDA-approved pill used to treat chemotherapy-induced nausea. He then had to snort an opioid or a placebo and perform certain tasks, such as pressing a button repeatedly while his vital signs were monitored.

Cinnamon has since moved to New York City and continues to frequent opiates. He praised the subreddit's honesty and support. Cinnamon said he's always felt comfortable sharing his true identity on Reddit because he hasn't been involved in major drug-related crimes in a long time. He believes opiates will continue to grow as the stigma around addiction diminishes across the country.

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For a long time we were afraid to say anything, to express our opinion about addiction, Cinnamon said. "We have people dying left and right, we have sons and daughters of senators, congressmen and lobbyists suffering, and I think what we're seeing is a culmination of these issues being turned into a dialogue that we're finally acknowledging that it's time to have."

This article was first published100 days in the Appalachians, a joint project of the authorsReed College of Media at West Virginia University,West Virginia Public BroadcastingeThe Daily Yonder


Does the United States consumes 80% of the world's supply of prescription opiate painkillers? ›

The United States makes up 4.4% of the world's population, and consumes over 80% of the world's opioids. The US consumes approximately 99% percent of the world's hydrocodone.

What is the US doing to help the opioid crisis? ›

The U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), awarded nearly $1.5 billion to support states, tribal lands, and territories' efforts to address the opioid crisis and support individuals in recovery.

What percent of the US population are addicted to opioids? ›

Five percent of U.S. adults say they have abused or been addicted to opioids or prescription painkillers, up from 1 percent in 2017, possibly reflecting a greater awareness and willingness to talk about the problem.

When was the first wave of opiate addiction in the United States? ›

The first wave began with increased prescribing of opioids in the 1990s, with overdose deaths involving prescription opioids (natural and semi-synthetic opioids and methadone) increasing since at least 1999.

What state has the highest opioid prescribing? ›

Top 10 and Bottom 10 Opioid Prescribing Rates by Congressional District: United States, 2016
RankStateOpioid Prescribing Rate per 100
16 more rows

Which country exports the most opioids? ›

India is the biggest supplier. In the past year, U.S. law enforcement officials estimate that 1 billion tramadol tablets have been seized leaving India by the United States and its international partners in counter-narcotics, and actual exports could be exponentially greater.

What is the strongest pain killer? ›

Opioid drugs relieve pain by mimicking a naturally occurring pain-relief function within our nervous symptoms. They are the best, strongest pain relievers we have.

What is Biden doing about opioid crisis? ›

The Biden administration is implementing a new law to make it easier to prescribe drugs to treat opioid use disorder — even as one of its agencies, the Drug Enforcement Administration, subjects the drug to such strict regulation that many are reluctant to dispense it.

Is the US in an opioid pandemic? ›

Opioid addiction and abuse in the United States has become a prolonged epidemic, endangering public health, economic output, and national security. Since 2000, more than a million people in the United States have died of drug overdoses, the majority of which were due to opioids.

Where is opioid addiction most prevalent? ›

Nonmedical prescription opioid misuse remains a growing public problem in need of action and is concentrated in areas of US states with large rural populations such as Kentucky, West Virginia, Alaska, and Oklahoma.

How many Americans use opioids for chronic pain? ›

Although numerous treatments are available for treatment of chronic pain, an estimated 5 to 8 million Americans use opioids for long-term management of chronic pain.

Who started the opioid crisis in America? ›

It started in the mid-1990s when the powerful agent OxyContin, promoted by Purdue Pharma and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), triggered the first wave of deaths linked to use of legal prescription opioids.

How do you stop an opioid crisis? ›

There are a variety of ways to help reduce exposure to opioids and prevent opioid use disorder, such as:
  1. Prescription drug monitoring programs.
  2. State prescription drug laws.
  3. Formulary management strategies in insurance programs, such as prior authorization, quantity limits, and drug utilization review.

Is OxyContin still a problem? ›

Contrary to the statements of Purdue recent evidence has shown that oxycontin is addictive and has played a significant role in the devastating epidemic of opioid addiction that has gripped the U.S. in recent years. Private parties and states attorneys general have sued Purdue.

What country consumes the most prescription drugs? ›

Prescription drug statistics 2023
  • Data suggests that among those who take prescription medications, the average number of medications taken is four. ...
  • Research on prescription drug spending suggests that the United States consumes the most prescription drugs.

What country is the main suppliers of opiates? ›

U.S. authorities say that China remains the primary source of the precursor chemicals, which are then processed and manufactured into synthetic opioids by Mexican drug cartels to bring into the United States.

Where does most of the world's opiates come from? ›

Afghan opium and heroin has not stopped. Afghanistan supplies 80% of global opiate demand.

How many Americans consume opioids? ›

Opioid use disorder and opioid addiction remain at epidemic levels in the US and worldwide. Three million US citizens and 16 million individuals worldwide have had or currently suffer from opioid use disorder (OUD). More than 500,000 in the United States are dependent on heroin.


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