Street Drugs to Watch for in 2022
The COVID-19 pandemic complicated the substance abuse landscape as people on lockdown looked for a way to escape reality through the use of alcohol and drugs. And some fell into addiction unintentionally — between misusing prescription drugs and semi-legal supplements, sometimes it's not always easy to recognize if a drug is dangerous or not.
To make matters worse, it seems there are always newly emerging street drugs on the horizon. With the potential return of the club scene and people still seeking an escape from reality, the new year is primed to see an uptick in illegal drug use. As such, here is a look at recent trends in drug use and the rising street drugs to watch for in 2022.
COVID-19 and the Decline of Club Drugs
When lockdown, quarantine, and social distance became a way of life during the COVID-19 pandemic, popular club drugs like MDMA and cocaine dropped off. Instead, alcohol, marijuana, LSD, mushrooms, and anti-anxiety medications rose in popularity as people looked for a mental escape. Unfortunately, the use of fentanyl-laced drugs, opioids, and benzodiazepines has also continued to increase.
Here were some of the most prominent drug statistics of 2020-2021, according to a global survey published in The Economist:
- Without a club scene, cocaine use fell by 38% and ketamine by 34%.
- MDMA/ecstasy ranked last on the survey, dropping by 41% in the absence of festivals and nightclubs.
- Psychedelics like LSD and mushrooms remained steady, with about 20% of people saying they increased their use.
- Cannabis was the most popular illicit drug of 2020, with a 46% increase in use among Americans.
New and Emerging Street Drug Trends
While club drugs are beginning to spike in popularity again, the abuse of several other drugs has also increased and needs to be monitored as we head into 2022.
Also called wildnil and serial killer, carfentanil's primary use is for sedating large animals like horses and elephants, making it one of the most potent drugs in the United States. In fact, it is considered so dangerous that those who handle it wear protective gear to prevent the drug from absorbing into their skin. Just a trace amount of 0.02 milligrams can trigger a fatal overdose.
Carfentanil is gaining popularity as a street drug because it is less expensive yet more potent than heroin. This allows illicit manufacturers to produce and sell greater amounts of the drug at lower costs. Dealers will cut carfentanil with other substances and sell it in other drugs such as Oxycontin, Xanax, MDMA, and cocaine, meaning users won't even realize they are taking this particular drug until after ingesting it. Symptoms begin within minutes and can include shallow breathing, clammy skin, and respiratory arrest. If you recognize any of these, dial 911 immediately.
Synthetic opioids accounted for 72.9% of opioid-involved overdose deaths in 2019, and these numbers only continue to climb. As the opioid crisis worsens, the popularity of fentanyl has yet to wane, and must be on any drug abuse radar for 2022.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that can be up to 100 times more potent than morphine. It has a number of street names, including blue dolphin, china girl, and apache. When mixed with heroin in a pill form, it is called Facebook. It is also referred to as speedball when combined with cocaine, and goofball when mixed with meth.
As with carfentanil, dealers cut fentanyl with other substances and mix it into other drugs, including MDMA, Xanax, cocaine, and meth. Lacing these drugs with fentanyl makes them cheaper to produce but puts the user at a far greater risk of overdose. If you experience confusion, nausea, drowsiness, slowed breathing, sweating, or stiff muscles, call 911.
Although not necessarily a new street drug, Flakka dropped in popularity for a few years but is now making an alarming comeback. You may also know this drug better as bath salts or zombie drug. On its own, Flakka appears as pink or white crystals and usually comes in pouches labeled as 'phone screen cleaner' or 'plant food.' However, when combined with other drugs, Flakka can be impossible to spot.
Considered a synthetic designer drug, Flakka is a stimulant that produces an amphetamine-like feeling and experience similar to ecstasy, but with much more dangerous side effects such as violent displays of aggression, self-harm, and other bizarre behavior. Users may also experience increased body temperature, tachycardia (rapid heartbeat), hallucinations, psychosis, and delusions.
These combined effects led the DEA to classify this drug as a Schedule I narcotic, which are dangerous drugs that cause severe harm to the user, have no medical value, and leave users highly susceptible to physical dependence.
A multi-purpose drug used primarily to treat general nerve pain and seizures, gabapentin has only recently become a concern as a street drug. On its own, gabapentin is not habit-forming and carries a low risk of abuse; however, recreational users take the drug as an opioid substitute or to intensify an opioid high. As the fourth most prescribed drug in the US, this drug comes in pill or capsule form and is not recommended for those struggling with or recovering from opioid addiction.
You may have noticed an influx of kava and kratom shops popping up steadily over the last few years. Derived from a psychoactive herb made from the Mitragyna speciose tree native to Southeast Asia, kratom looks like a green powder or loose-leaf tea. You can find it at specialty shops, farmer's markets, gas stations, convenience stores, and bodegas all across the US.
Kratom is not approved by the FDA for any health or medical-related use, and the agency continues to warn customers about the drug's psychoactive compounds and potential adverse effects. Because of the high risk of addiction, several US states and 18 countries have banned or put serious restrictions in place to regulate this substance. On the street, kratom is also called thorn, biak biak, and herbal speedball.
As new dangerous and addictive street drugs continue to emerge, new testing for these substances must also be developed. Countrywide Testing is at the forefront of FDA-approved drug testing devices. Our tools can help you determine if a loved one or patient is under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and our SAMHSA-accredited lab services give you reliable and quick results when you need them the most.
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