Fentanyl Use Rising Across The US

By Victoria Kim 07/05/18

The potent synthetic opioid has been showing up more on its own, rather than mixed with other drugs.

bag of fentanyl
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The use of fentanyl, the synthetic opioid said to be 50 times as potent as heroin, is growing on both a local and national level, according to new research.

A new analysis, conducted by Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) researchers, found that fentanyl was present in nearly 50% of overdose deaths in Marion County, Indiana in 2017. This is a significant increase compared to less than a decade prior, when fentanyl was present in fewer than 15% of overdose deaths.

“We found fentanyl present in 47% of cases,” said Brad Ray, assistant professor at IUPUI’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs. “That’s nearly half of every single person that dies of a drug overdose. That’s far outpaced heroin.”

These numbers mirror national statistics. In May, the Journal of the American Medical Association published research that showed that of the 42,249 opioid-related deaths in the United States in 2016, almost 46% involved fentanyl. Six years prior—similar to the IUPUI research—fentanyl was involved in just 14% of opioid-related deaths.

The IUPUI research also found that over time, the potent opioid has been showing up more on its own, rather than mixed with other drugs, according to the Indy Star. When fentanyl first emerged as a threat to public health, it was said primarily to be used to boost the potency of heroin and other drugs.

A previous study by IUPUI’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs from 2017 reported an association between tighter opioid restrictions and an increase in opioid-related deaths.

Researchers looked at prescription data from Indiana’s prescription drug monitoring program and analyzed that alongside toxicology data from the Marion County Coroner’s office, which tracks the specific substances involved in each drug-related death. With that, they found an “alarming trend”: the prescription drug crackdown occurred alongside a “considerable” rise in heroin and fentanyl overdoses.

“As people move away from pills, they do move on to heroin,” explained Ray, who was the lead author of that study. “It’s a cheaper substance to purchase but it’s much more dangerous because you don’t know what’s in it, you don’t know how much to take.”

Ray went on to say that a lack of treatment options in Indiana exacerbates the issue.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr