Fentanyl led to 90% of overdose deaths in 24 area counties, mostly men

A new study by local researchers found an increase in overdose deaths that can be traced to fentanyl and other drugs similar to fentanyl.

A team with the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine found that more than 90 percent of unintentional overdose deaths in 24 Ohio counties in January and February 2017 involved fentanyl and drugs with a molecular structure similar to fentanyl, also called fentanyl analogs, while heroin was identified in only about 6 percent of cases.

“Fentanyl is commonly appearing in combination with other analogs, compounds with a molecular structure similar to fentanyl,” said Raminta Daniulaityte, associate director of the Boonshoft’s Center for Interventions, Treatment, and Addictions Research, in a statement. “The effects of these drugs are more unpredictable and dangerous. Fentanyl and fentanyl analogs are key contributors to the unintentional drug-related overdose deaths in 24 Ohio counties.”

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Boonshoft reported that evidence from the study indicates the increasing and substantial role of illicitly manufactured fentanyl and the declining presence of heroin and pharmaceutical opioids in overdose fatalities. The study also found that fentanyl is commonly appearing in combination with other analogs.

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The study identified fentanyl and fentanyl analogs and other drugs in 281 unintentional overdose fatalities, with Boonshoft researchers working with the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office and Miami Valley Regional Crime Lab on the work funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health and National Institute on Drug Abuse.

In the study:

  • Males accounted for 181 of the unintentional overdose deaths.
  • More than half of the deaths occurred in people ages 25 through 44.
  • Only 6 percent tested positive for heroin. The percentage of heroin positive cases was greater in Appalachian counties.
  • Among the 16 heroin-positive cases, 12 also tested positive for illicitly manufactured fentanyl.
  • Twenty-one people who died, including 11 in Montgomery County, tested positive for carfentanil, a highly toxic IMF compound, which is about 10,000 times more potent than morphine and used in veterinary medicine for large animals.

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Pharmaceutical fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid pain reliever that’s similar to morphine, but it is 50 to 100 times more powerful and is used to treat patients with severe pain. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl may have a greater potency than fentanyl and often requires multiple naloxone doses to reverse overdoses.

The report stated that illicitly manufactured fentanyl and its analogs have not been part of routine toxicology testing so toxicological data on the current outbreak of fentanyl and fentanyl analogs has been limited.

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