Fentanyl is Fast Becoming the Most Common Drug for Overdose

For the first time since the state started recording drug overdose deaths, fentanyl is the cause for just as many overdoses as heroin, if not more, according to the latest state data, putting a spotlight on the synthetic opioid and its role in the addiction epidemic. “The real killer clearly is synthetic opioids, and what we know is that it’s not only mixed in heroin, but also in cocaine, methamphetamine and other drugs,” said Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato. “I call it the ‘synthetic storm.’ My belief is that within five years, most or all cases will involve synthetics.”

Fentanyl, which is 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin and morphine, started grabbing headlines and attention several years ago when it gained a larger presence in the recreational drug scene. Less than six years ago in 2012, fentanyl showed up in only 42 drug overdose deaths statewide. By 2016, one in three people who died from an overdose had knowingly or unknowingly taken fentanyl, records show. Now, preliminary state reports show fentanyl is on par with heroin as the leading drug in overdose deaths. About 676 people in New Jersey died with fentanyl in their systems from January through June of 2017.

If that rate continued for the rest of the year, the total will be the most fentanyl-involved deaths the state has ever recorded, even outpacing heroin. Final, specified data for 2017 overdoses are not yet available, but the state Attorney General’s Office recorded about 2,750 total deaths that year, up 24 percent from the year before, said department spokeswoman Lisa Coryell. Synthetic opioids have been a driving force in the uptick, experts say. What makes fentanyl deadlier than heroin is its potency. Only a single or several granules of the opioid is enough to be lethal. Coronato said about 80 percent of people in Ocean County who have died from an overdose this year so far tested positive for the synthetic opioid.

“Not everybody is able to handle it,” Coronato said. “Narcan can work at first, but wear off, where fentanyl lasts and can cause continued overdose, which is why people really need to go to the hospital.” They may not be able to stop people from taking substances with fentanyl, but Babette Richter, ARCH nurse with the South Jersey AIDS Alliance in Atlantic City, said they can try to prevent more deaths. New Jersey Syringe Access Programs, including the one run by the AIDS alliance, with guidance and funding from the state Department of Health, started providing clients with fentanyl testing strips and awareness education in July.

The strips, which are being used by other state and city health departments in California, Philadelphia and Columbus, Ohio, are commonly used to detect the presence of fentanyl in urine drug testing. Public health experts have repurposed the strips to detect fentanyl in drug samples by directing people to mix water with residue leftover from the drugs and let the strip sit in the water for up to five minutes.

If one line shows up, fentanyl is present, and people should consider not using the drugs, or take precautions and make sure someone can deliver Narcan if needed, health officials said. “I’ve had some of our people tell us that they don’t use the drugs if fentanyl is in it, but a lot are going to anyway,” Richter said. “This is all about harm reduction. We educate people that if they’re going to use it, maybe they should only use only part of it or use it slowly to wait and see what happens.” Experts say some people with addictions purposely seek out fentanyl and similar compounds like carfentanil because they don’t need to buy as much to get the same high.

Reference: https://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/news/crime/heroin_epidemic/an-epidemic-within-an-epidemic-fentanyl-s-reach-grows/article_e147636b-c8e1-5d42-ba52-7d6ec60e5d75.html
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