Fentanyl Deaths Continue to Rise

New data on synthetic opioids show an alarming number of overdose deaths due to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid available both as a prescription and increasingly on the black market.

Currently 18 states and the District of Columbia show increases in fentanyl overdose deaths in 2015. Between 2014 and 2015, fentanyl overdose deaths rose by 103 percent in Massachusetts and by 229 percent in West Virginia. These figures are based only on cases where medical examiners actually test for the presence of fentanyl, so the true figures may be higher.

The data suggest that deaths from fentanyl overdose are most common among white men ages 25 to 54 who live on the edges of large metro areas and in medium-sized cities. Also, the data show that more fentanyl has been seized in the Eastern seaboard and Appalachian regions than in other parts of the country.

Fentanyl’s high potency and ability to suppress the central nervous system tops law enforcement and public health officials’ reasons for concern. Heroin is increasingly cut with fentanyl to increase profits, because fentanyl is both more powerful and cheaper than heroin. Some buyers know their purchase is cut, but many do not. In some cases even the local dealers do not know their product contains fentanyl. Those experienced with heroin may believe they can tell the two drugs apart, but, tragically, the data show otherwise.

Changes in the supply chain of fentanyl have made it tougher to reduce the availability of the drug. However, supplies are now coming in from a variety of sources, including Mexican cartels and Chinese websites, making it harder for law enforcement agencies to stem the tide of this lethal drug.

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