Fentanyl Present In 90% Of Drugs, Massachusetts Officials Warn

By Kelly Burch 08/30/18

The synthetic opioid is found more in combination with cocaine and benzodiazepines than heroin.

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Officials in Massachusetts are warning the public that the presence of the deadly synthetic opioid, fentanyl, is increasingly common in all types of illicit drugs in the state—not just in heroin or other opioids—raising the overdose risk for users of cocaine and other illegal substances. 

“If an individual is using illicit drugs in Massachusetts, there’s a very high likelihood that fentanyl, which is so deadly, could be present,” said Dr. Monica Bharel, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health, according to New England Public Radio. “Anybody using illicit drugs should understand the risks, carry naloxone, and access treatment.”

The state’s quarterly report found that fentanyl is present in 90% of overdose deaths in Massachusetts. It is found more in combination with cocaine and benzodiazepines than with heroin. In 2014, fentanyl was found in less than 30% of overdose deaths in the Bay State. 

Because fentanyl is becoming more prevalent in cocaine and benzodiazepines, officials are advising family members of people who use illicit drugs to carry naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug. People who do not use opioids regularly are more susceptible to fentanyl overdose because they have not built up an opioid tolerance. 

Because of this, the state is urging healthcare providers to help all drug users get into treatment, not just those who report that their primary drug of choice is an opioid. 

“When analyzing opioid overdose deaths, we have become aware that a significant portion of the deaths are associated with concurrent cocaine use,” the state wrote in a letter to providers. “We believe this information is useful for you in your clinical work. Additionally, patients should be aware that polysubstance use can NOT be a reason for refusal for admission in the treatment system.” 

The report also showed that overdose deaths are declining in Massachusetts for the third straight quarter, even as such deaths continue to rise nationally. This could be due in part to the rising rates at which EMTs in the state are administering naloxone, as well as public health campaigns, Bharel said. 

“In Massachusetts we have a multi-pronged approach,” she said. “This is about prevention, raising awareness in our communities, and raising awareness among our prescribers.” 

However, not all demographics are seeing the improvement. Hispanics are disproportionately likely to die of an overdose in Massachusetts, and the overdose rates for black men continue to rise. 

“While the results of our efforts are having an impact, we must double down on our efforts to implement treatment strategies that meet the needs of the highest risk individuals and communities,” Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said in a statement.

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