The U.S. opioid crisis seems to be getting worse with each passing day. Fueled by the influx of illicit drugs in the country, overdose deaths showed an increase of 21 percent between January 2016 and January 2017. Significantly, fatalities involving synthetic opioids such as fentanyl jumped 100 percent during the same period.
Though almost every U.S. state is grappling with the opioid epidemic, New Hampshire has seen an alarming increase in overdose deaths involving fentanyl. The latest study by the National Drug Early Warning System (NDEWS) reported a whopping 150 percent increase in fentanyl-related overdose deaths in New Hampshire in a span of two years, from 145 in 2014 to 362 in 2016. A powerful painkiller, fentanyl is easily available in illegal drug markets in the U.S. and is often mixed with heroin and cocaine to increase its euphoric effects.
Significantly, the findings of the study revealed that nearly all fentanyl-related overdose deaths involved another drug as well. Through the study, researchers were able to discover multiple fentanyl mixtures of varying potency. The toxicology tests showed decedents testing positive for multiple drugs, with 20 percent of samples revealing the presence of 10 or more drugs. The average count of parent drugs in each deceased person was found to be at 6.2. The study discovered that 95 percent of the overdose victims were white. The researchers also found that opioid antagonist naloxone was administered in only 12 percent of the cases.
“While the media tend to emphasize heroin or fentanyl as the ‘primary drug problem,’ it is clear from our research that the users of these drugs tend to use many other drugs. To be effective, treatment must focus on each person’s total drug problem, rather than on a single drug,” said Dr. Eric Wish, principal investigator of the NDEWS.
Post its analysis, the New Hampshire study stressed on the need for the following:
- Increase availability of needle exchanges.
- Increase availability of treatments addressing multiple drug use disorders in fentanyl users.
- Eliminate barriers to access and use naloxone.
An opioid analgesic (pain relief) and anesthetic, fentanyl is a Schedule II narcotic and is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Owing to its increased euphoric effects, fentanyl is often mixed with heroin and/or cocaine and is much more prone to abuse and overdose. In 2016, fentanyl products were misused by 228,000 people in the U.S.
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