Fentanyl Is Now The Leading Cause Of US Overdose Deaths

Deaths from fentanyl and other synthetic opioids killed more
than 20,000 people in 2016, doubling the previous year’s rate,
CDC data show.

Originally posted on October 10, 2017, 14:36 GMT

Updated on October 13, 2017, 01:57 GMT

Fentanyl and other synthetic opioid painkillers are now the
leading cause of overdose deaths nationwide, killing more than
20,000 people last year, according to provisional
CDC data.

“Shocking numbers,” epidemiologist Daniel Ciccarone of the
University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine told
BuzzFeed News. “I see only growing problems in my field work,”
he added, with fentanyl becoming the new normal for heroin
buyers in places like Chicago and Charleston, West Virginia.

The US is in the midst of an epidemic of drug overdose deaths,
with nearly 65,000 people killed by heroin, cocaine, and
prescription painkillers in 2016, a 21% jump from a year
earlier. That
rise was first reported by Mother Jones in September.

Underneath the total increase is the surge in deaths dues to
fentanyl and related synthetic opioids, more powerful relatives
of heroin and morphine. Widely tainting the illicit drug supply
of heroin and counterfeit pain pills, these
synthetic opioids doubled their share of the previous
year’s already alarming overdose toll, according to the new
data, which is provisional, with final mortality figures
expected in December.

The increase is remarkable because fentanyl only arrived in the
illicit drug supply in a noticeable way around 2012, and has
now raced ahead of drugs usually responsible for overdose
deaths. Fentanyl is roughly 50 times more potent than morphine
and about 10 times more potent than heroin.

The death of Prince in April 2016
resulted from a fentanyl overdose, reportedly from
counterfeit pain pills found in his possession. Carfentanil, an
even more potent relative of fentanyl, has been linked to

mass outbreaks of
deadly overdoses nationwide. Research by Ciccarone and
colleagues has suggested
that their link to overdoses comes not from the potency of the
these drugs in and of itself, but rather the sharp changes in
potency they introduce into illicit drug markets.

Overall, opioid overdose deaths quadrupled from 8,050 in 1991
to 33,091 in 2015, according to the CDC. Heroin deaths
quadrupled from 3,036 in 2010 to 12,989 in 2015,
driven by a sharp increase in the heroin supply. Now
fentanyl is creating a third wave of overdose deaths, as those
first two waves have steadied to each kill around 15,000 people
a year.

On August 10, President Donald Trump called the overdose
epidemic a national emergency in remarks at his golf resort in
Bedminster, New Jersey. However, he has still
not made an official declaration of an emergency two months

“After waiting so long for an emergency declaration, I think
it’s time to move on,” former Office of National Drug Policy
official Regina LaBelle told BuzzFeed News.

“Today, let’s look at what we need to do to address the
epidemic – build an effective treatment system to reduce
overdose deaths, improve our recovery system, expand
opportunities to intervene at every stage of an opioid use
disorder,” she said by email. “If there is one issue where
there is bipartisan consensus, it’s this one.”

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