The statistics highlighting the sheer number of fentanyl overdose cases across the nation are staggering. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of fentanyl deaths caused by accidental overdose now exceeds the number of fatalities caused by vehicle accidents and gun violence (1).
The number of deaths involving prescription opioid painkiller medications continues to rise. However, the increase in fatalities where fentanyl or fentanyl analogues are listed as the primary drug is what causes the most concern.
The CDC publishes updated statistics (2) that highlight overdose death involving specific drugs. In the 12 months leading up to January 2017, 20,145 Americans died from overdosing on fentanyl or other synthetic opioid drugs, such as fentanyl analogues, up dramatically from 9,945 deaths in the previous 12 months. By comparison, the number of people who died as a result of heroin overdose was 15,446.
At the same time, statistics also show (3) an increase in the number of deaths caused by overdosing on stimulant drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) reports that fentanyl has been found in seized amounts of heroin, but also in cocaine and even in marijuana. This indicates that drug dealers are willing to cut illicit street drugs with more potent opioids in an effort to reduce costs, but also to assist in developing dependency or addiction in their customers.
Fentanyl has also been identified as a primary ingredient in several counterfeit pills, created to resemble other medications. The huge demand on the illicit black market for prescription opioid pain pills has driven illegal manufacturers to create fake pills containing fentanyl and sold with false labels.
When users purchase opioid pain pills on the black market, they have no clue what they’re really taking. The result is an increased risk of accidental fentanyl overdose.
What Is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a powerful prescription medication commonly used to treat moderate to severe pain, especially in palliative care patients for chronic pain management. The synthetic opioid painkiller may also be used as a surgical anesthetic under careful monitoring. When used strictly for medicinal purposes, the doses used must be strictly monitored, as there are cases where death has resulted from improper medical use.
However, fentanyl can also be illegally produced in non-regulation laboratories specifically for sale on the streets as a recreational drug. Illicit fentanyl may be available.
How Unintentional Fentanyl Overdoses Occur
Drug dealers distributing illicit street drugs such as heroin may not have heard of fentanyl two or three years ago. Today more dealers are distributing fentanyl simply because it’s easier to obtain and can be significantly cheaper than heroin to buy on the street.
There are also dealers who will ‘cut’, or combine heroin with fentanyl. Fentanyl is known to be up to 50 times more potent than heroin. However, some fentanyl analogues circulating on the streets are formulated differently, which can make them more than 100 times more potent than morphine, so users may be taking much higher doses than they expected.
A fatal dose of fentanyl can be as little as 3 milligrams, which is little more than a few grains of sand. The result can be an accidental fentanyl overdose.
Reducing Fentanyl Overdose Death
In an effort to reduce the risk of fentanyl overdose death, emergency first responders across the country carry naloxone, which is known as the anti-overdose drug. Naloxone reverses the effects of opioids.
Users are also cautioned that the sheer number of dealers willing to spike, cut or lace other drugs with fentanyl and other synthetic opioid analogues increases the risk of accidental fentanyl overdose death.
As the drug is so potent, users can experience a fentanyl overdose with relatively small doses. Even in users who have developed a tolerance to using other opiates over time, such as heroin, it can be difficult to accurately gauge the dose that can cause a fentanyl overdose.
If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.