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Fentanyl drives rise in opioid-linked deaths in U.S.

Staff Writer |
Fentanyl, a synthetic narcotic, is a key player in America's continuing epidemic of opioid-related overdose deaths, two new studies report.

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Opioid OD deaths began increasing early this decade as people addicted to prescription painkillers started switching to heroin, which became cheaper and increased in supply, researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

But the emergence of fentanyl and its cousins drove an even greater increase in overdose deaths, exacerbating an already terrible situation, the researchers said.

In 2015 alone, about 33,000 people died of an opioid overdose in the United States.

When drug traffickers began mixing fentanyl into the heroin supply, they created a highly potent narcotic cocktail that has proven fatal to thousands of drug users, investigators noted.

"Approximately half of the increase in deaths involving heroin after 2013 is attributable to increases in deaths involving use of both heroin and fentanyl," researchers with the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control wrote in one of the studies.

But deaths from fentanyl-type drugs with no heroin involvement also increased substantially in recent years.

About 90 percent of OD deaths in Ohio early this year involved fentanyl or its chemical cousins, state public health officials reported in the second paper. Only 6 percent of overdoses involved heroin.

In essence, the U.S. opioid epidemic has progressed to a new and more dangerous wave, said Dr. Harshal Kirane, director of addiction services at Staten Island University Hospital in New York City.


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