Fentanyl Officially The Deadliest Drug In America

By Kelly Burch 12/17/18

According to a new report, fentanyl is responsible for more US deaths than any other drug.

doctors rushing to help a person who has suffered a fentanyl overdose

Fentanyl has become the most deadly drug in the nation, involved in more overdose deaths than any other illicit substance, according to a new report. 

According to the National Center for Health Statistics’ “Drugs Most Frequently Involved in Drug Overdose Deaths: United States, 2011–2016” report, fentanyl was involved in 18,335 overdose deaths last year, far surpassing heroin, the second most deadly drug, which was involved in 15,961 deaths.

Overall, fentanyl was present in 28.8% of overdose deaths in 2016, the report found. 

Often, fentanyl was present alongside other drugs, including opioids and cocaine. The prevalence of fentanyl in the opioid supply and now the cocaine supply across the country is striking fear into health care workers and drug users alike, since the powerful synthetic opioid can cause an overdose in tiny amounts. In 69% of the deaths that involved fentanyl, another drug was also found, according to the report. 

“We’ve had a tendency to think of these drugs in isolation. It’s not really what’s happening,” Dr. Holly Hedegaard, lead author of the report and injury epidemiologist at the National Center for Health Statistics told The Huffington Post.

Oftentimes, drug users don’t even know they’re being exposed to the drug. This can be particularly problematic for people who don’t typically use opioids and therefore don’t have a tolerance built up. That can leave them more vulnerable to overdose, but participants in one Rhode Island survey said the drug is nearly impossible to avoid.  

"It's like you notice that there's fentanyl and it's not the drug you're going for. It's like, what's the point, unless you have a little lab kit or something. That's the only way you can tell," a user said.  

"I don't think you can avoid it now," another user said.

The government report examined overdoses between 2011 and 2016 by looking at the data on death certificates to see which drugs were present in the most deaths. In 2011, fentanyl was the 10th most deadly drug in the country, present in just 1,662 deaths. In 2012 and 2013 it was the ninth most deadly, before moving to the fifth spot in 2014, when it was involved in 4,223 deaths.

By 2015 it was the second most deadly drug, involved in 8,251 deaths, before its impact grew massively in 2016. 

"Fentanyl is so deadly, in the geographic regions where it's been flooding in, deaths soared like we've never seen before," Dr. Andrew Kolodny, co-founder of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, told CNN.

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.