Fatal Dose: Fentanyl Responsible for Most Synthetic Opioid Overdose Deaths

| June 13, 2018

VENANGO CO., Pa. (EYT) – Fentanyl continues to be the most prevalent synthetic opioid, and it is here to stay for the immediate future. That is according to a recent report by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) published in May.

Citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the report stated that 63,632 Americans died in 2016 from poisoning deaths involving drugs. This is the highest number of drug-related deaths ever recorded in American history. Of those deaths, 19,143 were linked to opioid-involved overdoses. That translates to more than thirty percent of all drug-involved poisoning deaths being linked to opioids and was a 110 percent increase from opioid-related deaths in 2015.

While many drugs fit into the category of synthetic opioid such as heroin and prescription medications, fentanyl was responsible for the majority of the 19,143 deaths.

This deadly trend does not appear to be changing.

Statistics through the first two quarters of 2017 show that fentanyl was the most identified synthetic opioid, responsible for nearly 64 percent of all synthetic opioid identifications throughout the first six months of 2017.

Pennsylvania is finding itself right in the middle of this crisis.

The DEA National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS) provides timely and detailed analytical results of drugs seized by law enforcement and tested in their labs. In 2016, Ohio had the most fentanyl submissions to NFLIS with 9,224 submissions. Pennsylvania was third with 3,173 fentanyl submissions.

The report also cited the ease to which fentanyl can be secured in the form of choice for each user. Fentanyl intended to be used in powder form is marketed to heroin users who may have developed a tolerance for heroin. It is also possible that some heroin users may be using a form of heroin laced with fentanyl that they are not aware of when using. Conversely, fentanyl in laced pills are pushed towards those who abuse prescription medications.

The number of samples studied in 2016 involving fentanyl-laced substances in powder form increased 796 percent from 2014. While the number of samples studied in 2016 involving fentanyl-related substances in tablet form increased an incredible 7,266 percent.

The DEA reached out to fentanyl users as part of their research and found that there are three unique characteristics that users seek out in fentanyl.

Fentanyl users cited that the drug has a greater potency, a more intense rush, and a shorter effect than does heroin. While some prefer the short, more potent rush, others that prefer a longer more subtle rush went on the record as using a heroin-fentanyl mix as they tried to achieve a “best of both worlds” type of experience.

Clarion County Coroner, Randall Stom, said that this is a popular practice that he has seen in Clarion County.

“Fentanyl has been seen in numerous overdose cases in Clarion County. The dealers are cutting fentanyl into heroin and selling the mixture. The results are tragic in that this mixture is more resistant to naloxone and is, therefore, more likely to result in an accidental overdose fatality.”

Other respondents even noted to the CDC that while the immense dangers of fentanyl were understood, it is likely that users turn to fentanyl during withdrawal because of the intense, short rush that it provides.

Oil City Police Chief Bob Wenner told exploreVenango.com, “What most people are not aware of – those who are not involved in heroin – is that fentanyl is the cream of the crop for the heroin users. When heroin addicts hear of an overdose, they don’t consider it a bad batch – that is what they want.”

“You will always seek that first high. When a heroin addict hears about an overdose, that is good heroin for them. That is the best advertisement the pushers can have.”

“When we see someone overdose with fentanyl-laced heroin, we respond with Narcan. Some make it, some don’t.”

“Narcan is an unintended consequence. Unfortunately, heroin pushers are pushing it even more because of the Narcan.”

Mike Krafick, a Certified Recovery Specialist for Armstrong, Indiana, Clarion Drug and Alcohol Commission, explained to exploreVenango.com how so many users continue to use fentanyl despite the immense danger.

“When a person is addicted to drugs like heroin and fentanyl, the craving for the drug and drive to avoid withdrawal is so powerful that it makes getting and using the drug the number one priority. Most people understand the risks associated with using heroin and fentanyl but still think ‘I can handle this’ or ‘It’s not going to happen to me’ when it comes to overdose.”

Krafick went on to explain that to fully understand why addicts continue to use, it’s important to understand the makeup of the brain of those who have abused opioids.

“These drugs impact a person’s brain and the way they think. Thinking rationally about risk versus reward is not something that someone with an addiction to opioids does.”

“During my addiction, I was hospitalized five times for overdose and most people think that the near-death experience would make someone stop using drugs but that was not the case for me at all. I got to the point where a fatal overdose was not something that I was afraid of because I had done so much damage to my life with my drug use that I had given up hope on every turning my life around. I became completely hopeless. I’ve seen that same mindset in a lot of people that I’ve worked with over the years that are struggling with addiction.”

Krafick did stress, however, that it is very much possible for people to recover from dangerous opioid addictions.

“It’s important that people know that people can and do recover. I celebrated ten years of recovery this past April.”

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