Study links fentanyl to rise in drug overdose deaths

WASHINGTON (WHTM) – A new report says the introduction of illegally manufactured fentanyl into the heroin market is primarily responsible for the nation’s sharp increase in opioid overdose deaths since 2013.

The report released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says fentanyl was detected in 56.3 percent of 5,152 opioid overdose deaths in 10 states that reported autopsy results from July-December 2016.

In cases where fentanyl was found, the synthetic opioid was determined to be a cause of death nearly every time.

Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

The report also says fentanyl analogs – such as carfentanil, acetylfentanyl, and furanylfentanyl – are being detected increasingly in overdose deaths. Fentanyl analogs are similar in chemical structure to fentanyl but not routinely detected because special toxicology testing is required.

Carfentanil, used as a sedative for large animals, is estimated to be 10,000 times more potent than morphine.

The report says mixing fentanyl and fentanyl analogs with heroin and cocaine exposes users to drugs that vary substantially in potency, including some extremely potent products, sometimes without their knowledge.

However, nearly half of overdose deaths involving fentanyl and fentanyl analogs did not test positive for other drugs, suggesting fentanyl and fentanyl analogs might be emerging as unique products.

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