America’s addiction crisis is being ushered into a dangerous new era by rising levels of polysubstance abuse, as more people become addicted to deadly combinations of synthetic opioids and stimulants. The alarming trend is causing concern among addiction specialists and medical professionals, who say the rise of polysubstance abuse is making it harder to treat opioid addiction and taking the crisis to a new, more perilous level.

What is polysubstance abuse?

Polysubstance abuse is described by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as the “use of more than one drug.” This includes when multiple drugs are taken at the same time or “within a short time period,” the CDC explained, “either intentionally or unintentionally.” When done intentionally, polysubstance use typically occurs when someone “takes a drug to increase or decrease the effects of a different drug or wants to experience the effects of the combination,” the CDC added. Unintentional use happens when someone unknowingly takes drugs that were cut or mixed with other drugs. Either way, the consequences can be deadly because the effects from a combination of drugs “may be stronger and more unpredictable than one drug alone.”

Mixing substances is never safe, but combining drugs from opposite drug classes can be especially deadly. Contrary to what some substance users believe, mixing stimulants and depressants “doesn’t balance or cancel them out,” the CDC said. “In fact, the results of combining drugs are unpredictable, often modifying or even masking the effects of one or both drugs.” This could create the illusion that “the drugs are not affecting you, making it easier to overdose,” the agency added.

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