Fentanyl use at an “all-time high”
BOSTON (AP) – Massachusetts remains in the throes of an opioid crisis with more than 1,500 deaths through the first nine months of 2018, most linked to the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, according to new state figures released Friday.
The Department of Public Health’s latest quarterly report on opioid-related deaths also pointed to some encouraging trends, including a slight drop in overdose deaths as compared to last year and a continuing reduction in the number of prescriptions being written by doctors for opioid painkillers.
The report said there were 1,518 opioid-related overdose deaths through September of this year, a number that includes deaths confirmed to have been caused by overdose and others expected to be added to the list once an official determination is released.
In 2017, the state reported 1,538 confirmed and estimated overdose deaths.
While there have been fewer deaths so far this year, the state does not appear to be on pace to match the 4 percent decline that occurred between 2016 and 2017.
Fentanyl was present in 90 percent of the toxicology reports in opioid deaths during the second quarter of the current year, a figure that has tripled since 2014, the report stated.
By contrast, heroin, present in more than 70 percent of opioid-related deaths that year, fell to 37 percent in the April-June period of the current year.
“The opioid epidemic, fueled by an all-time high level of fentanyl, remains a tragic public health crisis responsible for taking too many lives in Massachusetts,” said Republican Gov. Charlie Baker in a statement accompanying the report.
“While there is much work left for all of us to do, we are encouraged that overdose deaths and opioid prescriptions continue to decline as searches on the Commonwealth’s Prescription Monitoring Program increase.” Read more.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency – Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than morphine. Pharmaceutical fentanyl was developed for pain management treatment of cancer patients, applied in a patch on the skin.
Because of its powerful opioid properties, Fentanyl is also diverted for abuse. Fentanyl is added to heroin to increase its potency, or be disguised as highly potent heroin.
Many users believe that they are purchasing heroin and actually don’t know that they are purchasing fentanyl – which often results in overdose deaths.
Clandestinely-produced fentanyl is primarily manufactured in Mexico.
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Fentanyl was first developed in 1959 and introduced in the 1960s as an intravenous anesthetic. It is legally manufactured and distributed in the United States.
Licit fentanyl pharmaceutical products are diverted via theft, fraudulent prescriptions, and illicit distribution by patients, physicians, and pharmacists.
From 2005 through 2007, both fatal overdoses associated with abuse of clandestinely produced fentanyl and law enforcement encounters increased markedly.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 1,013 fatal overdoses recorded from April 2005 to March 2007.
More recently, there has been a re-emergence of trafficking, distribution, and abuse of illicitly produced fentanyl with an associated dramatic increase in overdose fatalities.
Fentanyl pharmaceutical products are currently available in the following dosage forms: oral transmucosal lozenges commonly referred to as fentanyl “lollipops” (Actiq), effervescent buccal tablets (Fentora), sublingual tablets (Abstral), sublingual sprays (Subsys), nasal sprays (Lazanda), transdermal patches (Duragesic), and injectable formulations.
Clandestinely produced fentanyl is encountered either as a powder or in counterfeit tablets and is sold alone or in combination with other drugs such as heroin or cocaine. Read more: DRUGS OF ABUSE DEA Resource Guide: 2017 EDITION.