Is Fentanyl to blame for the recent dramatic increases in overdose deaths?

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There are very obvious signs that indicate Fentanyl is to blame for the increase of overdose deaths. Many experts look at statistics of the supply of fentanyl in certain states. The connection between overdose deaths and supply of fentanyl can’t be denied. The crisis for opioids in the US has shown a 35% increase of deaths from opiates, cocaine and meth. Fentanyl has added fuel to the fire in many places. It is being put in unsuspecting places such as drugs unrelated to opioids. Experts say the surge of fentanyl is the worst health crisis that has ever occurred in the US in modern history.

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The Potency of Fentanyl

Opiate and opiate synthetic drugs are measured up to morphine to determine their potency. Fentanyl is nearly one hundred times more potent than morphine. The drug should be formulated extremely carefully to avoid overdoses. This is sadly not the case when it’s manufactured in China or Mexico and brought onto the streets. Fentanyl is considered a synthetic opioid. It’s man-made but acts the same as heroin does when it comes to receptors in the brain. Fentanyl is stronger than morphine or oxycodone, making even a tiny dose a deadly dose. The potency is what has made it profitable for drug dealers. Heroin mixed with fentanyl can easily cause an overdose. What the user assumes to be his normal potency of heroin ends up being more. If there is fentanyl in it, the normal dose becomes an overdose. It’s important to note that some heroin users are getting pure fentanyl. There are also pills that are meant to look like oxycodone or Xanax but are fentanyl. A Harvard report likens it to ordering a glass of wine but getting a glass of pure ethanol.

History of Fentanyl

The history of Fentanyl started over 50 years ago. It was primarily used as an analgesic for surgeries. During the 1990’s, the Fentanyl patch was approved by the FDA. Since then, over a half dozen fentanyl preparations have been created, approved, and popularized. This allowed the drug to be administered to the patient transdermally. It was considered a useful pain killer to manage pain that cancer sufferers were dealing with. It was comprised of a gel that was infused with measured doses of Fentanyl. The drug would be released into body fat and move slowly into the bloodstream. This made it a long-term pain relief option. Fentanyl tablets and the Actiq lollipop were then developed. Actiq provides fast-acting relief when someone is in pain. A recent addition to Fentanyl medications is Onsolis. Approved by the FDA for breakthrough pain, it’s a soluble film on a disc. It can be put in the mouth and absorbed. There is no possibility to inhale or crush it.

States that Are Heavily Affected with Fentanyl Drug Overdose Deaths

In the US, fatal overdoses have decreased or leveled out in the Western states. According to Statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there is a surge of drug overdose deaths on the East Coast and Midwest. Overdose deaths rose from 49,000 in 2015 to 66,000 in 2017. This makes up for opiates, cocaine and methamphetamines. The states of Pennsylvania and Florida experienced an 85% increase in drug overdose deaths. California, Oregon, Washington, and Utah saw the number of deaths decrease by about 3%. Wyoming saw a decrease of 36%. Experts say that the drop and gain in certain states believe it has something to do with the Fentanyl supply on the streets. Basically, any state that doesn’t have a lot of fentanyl on the streets are seeing less overdoses.

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Cities in the US Facing Increases of Deadly Fentanyl Overdoses

The cities that have been most affected in the US by fentanyl explain it as an epidemic comparable to AIDS. The US has long been fighting against opioid addiction and fentanyl has just made using far more dangerous. There have been thousands of overdoses with many fatalities in urban areas. The statistics say that overdose deaths have increased by nearly 600% from 2014 to 2016. The 24 largest cities in the US and the counties that surround them are seeing the biggest influx and problems with fentanyl.

  • In Chicago, Illinois, there was a 2,700% increase in deaths related to fentanyl overdoses in 2016.
  • Orange Country, Florida had 34 fentanyl overdoses that lead to death in 2014. This jumped to 105 in 2016.
  • In Columbus Ohio, there were 13 overdoses in 2014 and 111 in 2016.
  • In Cleveland Ohio, there has been an overdose trend of cocaine laced with fentanyl that has doubled fentanyl deaths among African-Americans. There were 10 fatal overdoses in Cleveland associated with cocaine and fentanyl in 2014. As of 2016, there were 141.
  • The steepest spike for deadly fentanyl overdoses occurred in Philadelphia. As of 2014, fentanyl was responsible for 100 deaths. In 2016, there were over 400 overdose deaths related to fentanyl. Statewide, there were over 2,000 overdose fentanyl deaths. This is the first time in recent history that heroin wasn’t the deadliest drug for the state of Pennsylvania.

What Law Enforcement and Public Officials are Saying about Fentanyl

Police and health officials alike didn’t see the fentanyl epidemic coming the way that it did. They are alarmed by the rate fentanyl has been brought into street drugs. It has changed the way they look at the drug crisis. Micheal Ferguson of the DEA had this to say about fentanyl, “If anything can be likened to a weapon of mass destruction in what it can do to a community, its fentanyl, it’s manufactured death.” The health commissioner of Philadelphia has said that there are about 100 overdose deaths per month. Fentanyl is adding gas to a fire that was already raging in the area. He goes on to say that it’s the worst health crisis in modern history in the US. He likened it to the influenza pandemic of 1918.

Fentanyl Overdose Statistics

  • The Center of Disease Control and Prevention reported that rates of overdose deaths partially related to fentanyl doubled from 2015 to 2016.
  • Aside from methadone, 19,400 people died from overdoses related to synthetic opioids in 2016 alone. Through law enforcement reports, it was determined that most of these overdose deaths were related to fentanyl.
  • Fentanyl use has increased by almost 7 times from 2012 to 2014.
  • In 2016, more Americans died from drug overdose than any year in recorded history.
  • There were more than 63,000 people who died from opioid painkillers in 2016. This was an increase of 11,000 more than the year before.
  • From 2013 to 2014, there was a 426% increase in fentanyl drug busts.
  • CDC data indicated that there has been an 88% increase of fentanyl overdose deaths since 2013.

The FDA Drug Safety Warning for Children

Sadly, children have been exposed to the fentanyl skin patch. The FDA has issued drug safety warnings to let anyone in contact with children know, accidental exposure can be deadly. Children who even rub the skin patch on their skin have died or become seriously ill. Even with the prescription drug of fentanyl, it must be stored and disposed properly. When children put the patch near their mouth or apply it to the skin, it can slow down breathing while increasing carbon dioxide in the blood. The FDA has been aware of 32 cases involving children two and younger who have been exposed to the fentanyl skin patch.

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Why is Fentanyl so Dangerous?

Fentanyl in itself is dangerous but how it’s being used on the streets is what makes it a loaded gun. It is a synthetic opioid that is extremely potent. Fentanyl is being used to mix heroin or other street drugs. Most of the time, the user isn’t aware that it’s an ingredient. Also, fentanyl dosage when mixing on the streets is not accurate. There really is no way of telling if you’re taking too much. Stronger than oxycodone, fentanyl has been sold as a replacement of high-grade heroin. It can make the heroin high even more amplified. Someone addicted to heroin will take their usual dose believing it to be the drug they always use. The smallest amount of Fentanyl could cause an overdose. It’s to the point where some states are asking that a drug dealer be tried for murder for selling drugs with fentanyl in them.

Where is Fentanyl Coming From?

The most dangerous addiction to fentanyl is the manufactured version being created in labs in Mexico and China. US shipments began in 2013 that were disguised as office supplies. During the years it has been available in the US, it has caused a dramatic increase in drug overdose deaths. Fentanyl has outpaced deaths from any other opioid people have traditionally abused. Police doing drug busts found that pills labeled Norco or Percocet were actually a decoy for a fentanyl pill. As fentanyl is so much more potent, a drug trafficker doesn’t need to add as much. It’s more economical but even the tiniest amount can be deadly.

Cocaine Laced with Fentanyl

One of the dangers of fentanyl is that it’s being put in unlikely places. Users have come to expect that there will be some level of fentanyl in heroin. Cocaine users are not expecting it and that has been the source of overdose deaths. In New Haven, Connecticut, they treated 12 overdoses in an eight-hour period. Three of them were fatal. They were a group of people who purchased what they thought was cocaine on the streets. The white powder was actually fentanyl. Philadelphia overdose records will show that 162 people overdosed with cocaine and fentanyl in their blood. In New York, there were 115 overdose deaths with a cocaine and fentanyl combination. Authorities are extremely concerned with fentanyl being mixed up for other drugs. Fentanyl ending up in the cocaine supply will lead to even more deaths than what’s already being seen. The manufacturers of fentanyl mix the powder into other drugs with no precise potency in mind. Sometimes the doses are lethal. In this regard, experts say using cocaine right now is like playing Russian roulette.

What a Fentanyl Overdose Feels Like

Researchers at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention interviewed 60 people recruited from harm-reduction programs. The participants had either used the drug in the last year or survived from a fentanyl overdose within the past six months, or witnessed an overdose. The participants were asked what happened when they went through a suspected fentanyl overdose. The common answer was that their lips would turn blue. This would follow with gurgling sounds while breathing. The body stiffened or something that felt like a seizure would begin. Foaming at the mouth and confusion would ensue following total unresponsiveness. One of the participants had overdosed on both heroin and fentanyl and had this to say, “When someone overdoses on heroin, they may be able to take the drug and communicate for a few minutes. The person may stop talking suddenly because they’ve realized they’re overdosing. With a fentanyl overdose, as soon as they’re done injecting, they don’t even have time to pull out the needle. They’re immediately on the ground with no time to react.”

Fentanyl Overdose Symptoms

Taking too much fentanyl can cause a life-threatening overdose. If someone around you is overdosing, they have no capacity to help themselves. This is what to look for:

  • User will have a hard time swallowing.
  • They are extremely fatigued.
  • They will become dizzy and perhaps even faint.
  • Their breathing becomes shallow.
  • They don’t respond to something that should be painful.
  • They are very confused.
  • Their face becomes very pale.
  • Their lips and fingernails may turn blue or purple in color.
  • They may make disturbing gargling or choking sounds.
  • Their pupil size is reduced.
  • They may indicate an altered level of consciousness. To the onlooker, this will likely mean they don’t make sense.
  • Their body becomes very limp and they become unresponsive.
  • They may fall into a coma.
  • They may have a seizure.
  • Their heart may stop and they will go into cardiac arrest.

Reverse Treatment for Fentanyl Overdose

Naloxone, which is under the brand name Narcan, can reverse a Fentanyl overdose. Naloxone is used to treat any type of opioid overdose. In 83% of the cases where someone is overdosing from fentanyl, it takes more than one dose to reverse the effects. There are often two or more doses needed to revive a person.

Celebrity Fentanyl Overdose Stories

When Prince died, the report came back as the cause of death unknown. Much time passed before it became official and that fentanyl had been the cause of death for Prince. It was the same story for Tom Petty who also died from a fentanyl overdose. Both drug overdoses were accidental. With Prince, he had been coping with drug abuse and addiction for many years. It started with an addiction to Percocet. They found opioid medication with Prince at the time of his death. There is no indication that he actually had a prescription, however. The day prior to Prince overdosing on fentanyl, his loved ones called an opioid addiction specialist looking to get immediate help for the singer. By the time the representative arrived from California, it was too late. Tom Petty had two different types of fentanyl in his blood according to the toxicology report. Other substances found in his system included oxycodone, alprazolam and temazapam. These benzodiazepines would normally treat anxiety, antidepressant, or muscle spasms. Experts are suggesting that people struggling with prescription opioids may be in jeopardy of taking fentanyl out of desperation for their addiction.

Stopping the Fentanyl Epidemic

States like California have adopted harm-reduction strategies which seems to be working. This includes needle exchanges and information on how to avoid overdoses. That being said, the western states seem to have less influx of fentanyl. The deadly opioid hasn’t yet saturated the Californian market. The hope is that by protecting the health of drug users, they can avoid overdose deaths. The reality is Naloxone has skyrocketed in price. This may lead to a lack of support in the event someone is overdosing. In Washington, there have been more fentanyl treatment options set up for those with opioid addictions. There is the belief that with housing and employment opportunities, it may have diverted people from drug abuse. The reality is, if someone is already addicted to heroin and they’re using, it’s highly likely there will be fentanyl-laced into it at one point. Make no mistake, fentanyl is an extremely deadly drug and is certainly to blame for the increase in drug overdose deaths.