We have heard plenty of reports from first responders and medical experts about how fentanyl and fentanyl-related drugs have worsened the opioid epidemic, and now we have documented evidence.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released its first report on data from the State Unintentional Drug Overdose Reporting System (SUDORS), which tracked fatal opioid overdoses in ten states including West Virginia and the information is disturbing; opioid overdose deaths have spiked over the last three years due primarily to the rise of fentanyl and fentanyl analogs such as carfentanil.
Fentanyl is an opioid pain medication that is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, while carfentanil is designed for animal use and is 10,000 times more powerful than morphine. Illicit versions of these drugs have become significant factors in opioid deaths.
“Fentanyl was detected in 56.3 of the 5,152 opioid overdose deaths in the 10 states* during July-December 2016,” the CDC reports. “Of these 2,903 fentanyl-positive deaths, fentanyl was determined to be the cause of death by the medical examiner or coroner in nearly all (97.1 percent) of the deaths.”
Fentanyl is frequently combined with heroin and cocaine and then injected or snorted. The CDC study says because addicts are using these drugs that vary substantially in potency, the overdose risk increases.
We saw a classic example of the risk one day last year, when Huntington reported 28 overdoses within a few hours. Bruce Lamar Griggs admitted he sold the addicts heroin laced with fentanyl. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
While fentanyl is the most common synthetic opioid showing up in overdose deaths, carfentanil is playing an increasingly deadly role in our region. “Carfentanil contributed to approximately 350 overdose deaths in Ohio, but was detected in only one other state (West Virginia), the CDC reports. “Because of its extreme potency, even limited circulation of carfentanil could markedly increase the number of fatal overdoses.”
Huntington Fire Chief Jan Rader, who is on the front line of the fight against the overdose epidemic, has estimated that 10 percent of the population of Cabell County is addicted, resulting in $100 million in medical costs over the last year and a half.
“Twenty-six percent of the time that my guys get a call, they are climbing on their truck and going to an overdose,” Rader said on Meet the Press recently. “We average 5.3 overdoses a day in Huntington, West Virginia… that’s a town of 49,000 people.”
The persistent drug problem in America has taken an even more deadly turn in the last several years because of these illicit opioids. The CDC report is one of the first efforts to quantify the extent of the problem. The next step is to find solutions.
*(Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, West Virginia and Wisconsin)