Fentanyl is blamed for a record number of drug overdose deaths in the U.S.

Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic, is to blame for a record number of drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday. From January…

Fentanyl is blamed for a record number of drug overdose deaths in the U.S.

Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic, is to blame for a record number of drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday.

From January to March, more than 33,000 people died of a drug overdose, which is up about 6 percent from the same period in 2017.

Dr. Lisa Lynch, director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, said the surge in deaths was mostly due to increases in fentanyl-related deaths. In 2016, there were about 14,000 fentanyl-related overdose deaths. In 2017, there were about 16,000, and in the first quarter of 2018 there were 8,100 fentanyl-related deaths.

Fentanyl is a drug typically used to treat chronic pain, but there are reports of fentanyl being used illegally as a heroin substitute.

The fentanyl linked to overdose deaths is typically made illicitly in labs in China. The synthetic drug is particularly lethal because it can be absorbed through the skin, unlike methadone or oxycodone, which have to be swallowed or injected.

It is impossible to track exactly what percentage of the country’s drug overdose deaths are fentanyl-related because so many other drugs are involved in the deaths, including fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, prescription opioids, benzodiazepines, amphetamines and heroin.

In Washington State in 2018, a poison center registered about 80 cases per week of fentanyl misused or misused from people using the drug for the first time, compared to about 60 overdose cases per week during 2015.

Fentanyl can be smuggled into the country through smuggling rings or pharmaceutical warehouses. Earlier this year, a pharmacist in Maine was charged with purchasing a kilogram of fentanyl from a Chinese pharmacy that sent it to his pharmacy via FedEx.

Some other countries have already started treating the nation’s fentanyl problem as a public health emergency. In January, the European Commission approved a plan for the crisis in which the continent will evaluate how it treats fentanyl. Under the plan, several EU countries will coordinate programs across states so that patients can have easier access to anti-overdose medication, for example, or to medical and psychiatric treatment.

In the United States, Mr. Lynch said the CDC is devoting money to training for the health care professionals who will likely be facing those drug overdose deaths as they try to treat people suffering from the illness.

One in five people who report using heroin overdose. But about half of the overdose victims do not die. Mr. Lynch said the CDC plans to set up programs to collect data about all the people who have overdosed so that the organization can better study how the crisis is changing, based on data on who is dying.

The epidemic is likely to continue for years to come. A few thousand people had overdosed in April, but almost 12 million people in the United States started using opiate drugs within the past month, which means the impact of the drugs is far broader than the rate of death.

“There is really no timeframe for the opioid crisis to be over,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the CDC, who has now run the Foundation for a Healthy America, a public health advocacy group. “What we have seen is a steady progression in overdose deaths, so you don’t have to use Ebola analogy when you talk about a crisis, you can think of it in terms of a staircase.”

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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