Overdose Deaths From Fentanyl are on the Rise: What You Should Know

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that 33,091 people died from opioid overdoses in 2015, which accounts for 63 percent of all drug overdose deaths in the same year. A recent report from the CDC found that drug deaths from fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, other than methadone, rose 72 percent in just one year, from 2014 to 2015.

Last year, the death of music icon Prince was linked to fentanyl and the prescription drug has become a source of concern for government agencies and law enforcement officials alike, as death rates from fentanyl-related overdoses and seizures have risen across the country. 

What exactly is fentanyl?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic that is similar to morphine – but is 50 to 100 times more potent. It is a schedule II prescription drug, and it is typically used to treat patients with severe pain or to manage pain after surgery. It is also sometimes used to treat patients with chronic pain who are physically tolerant to other opioids. In its prescription form, fentanyl is known by such names as Actiq®, Duragesic® and Sublimaze®.

Like heroin, morphine and other opioid drugs, fentanyl works by binding to the body’s opioid receptors, which are found in areas of the brain that control pain and emotions.

When opioid drugs bind to these receptors, they can drive up dopamine levels in the brain’s reward areas, producing a state of euphoria and relaxation. But fentanyl’s effects resemble those of heroin and include drowsiness, nausea, confusion, constipation, sedation, tolerance, addiction, respiratory depression and arrest, unconsciousness, coma and death.

So why is abuse and misuse of fentanyl so dangerous?

When prescribed by a physician, fentanyl is often administered via injection, transdermal patch or in lozenges. However, the fentanyl and fentanyl analogs associated with recent overdoses are produced in clandestine laboratories.

This non-pharmaceutical fentanyl is sold in the following forms: as a powder; spiked on blotter paper; mixed with or substituted for heroin; or as tablets that mimic other, less potent opioids. Fentanyl sold on the street can be mixed with heroin or cocaine, which markedly amplifies its potency and potential dangers.

Users of this form of fentanyl can swallow, snort or inject it, or they can put blotter paper in their mouths so that the synthetic opioid is absorbed through the mucous membrane. Street names for fentanyl or for fentanyl-laced heroin include Apache, China Girl, China White, Dance Fever, Friend, Goodfella, Jackpot, Murder 8, TNT, and Tango and Cash.

Can misuse of fentanyl lead to death?

Opioid receptors are also found in the areas of the brain that control breathing rate. High doses of opioids, especially potent opioids such as fentanyl, can cause breathing to stop completely, which can lead to death. The high potency of fentanyl greatly increases risk of overdose, especially if a person who uses drugs is unaware that a powder or pill contains fentanyl.

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration issued a nationwide alert in 2015 about the dangers of fentanyl and fentanyl analogues/compounds. Fentanyl-laced heroin is causing significant problems across the country, particularly as heroin use has increased in recent years.

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Sources: National Institutes on Drug Abuse, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Drug Enforcement Administration


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    August 20, 2017 at 2:18 PM

    Please don’t forget not all fentanyl is bad if it no patches or used as prescribed they are very effective. Don’t cut them open, don’t extract the material inside of them. use them as prescribed and they are a very effective drug to treat intractable pain. These drugs are only bad when people abuse them. I can’t speak for the bastards who create the fentanyl in Laboratories in powder form and then put it in cocaine or heroin or in pills. These people should hang in hell, and God has a special place for people who do this.

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    July 2, 2017 at 4:51 PM

    …..let alone there are now strains of fentanyl being found that are completely resistant to Narcan (naloxone)…that’s THE most frightening thing of all I believe.

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    April 7, 2017 at 10:03 AM

    My son died this January from snorting what he thought was heroin — but was pure Fentanyl. I received the toxicology report and spoke to the Medical Examiner who told me there is an epidemic of Fentanyl deaths same as what happened to my son. Please tell your children, family members and friends that you know or think are using heroin about what happened to my son. He was 41, homeless for around 3 years, struggled from alcohol addiction and only started using heroin recently. He thought he bought heroin, he never intended to die. I don’t want this to happen to your child or anyone else. Please get the word out to everyone you know. God Bless — try to save a life — RIP Peter

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    March 24, 2017 at 10:01 AM

    Wow that’s really scary I pray that the rate slows down for overdoses!!

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    Javier Ley

    January 23, 2017 at 1:02 PM

    Thanks for the post. Another danger we are seeing in the field is with Narcan (naloxone), the opiate overdose medication, which is not as efficient at overriding the effects of fentanyl-laced heroin. The CDC states that “multiple doses of naloxone may be needed to revive a patient after a fentanyl overdose, given fentanyl’s higher potency…”

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