CDC Warns Of ‘Dramatic Rise’ In Synthetic Opioid Deaths Over 2017

Steve Birr | Vice Reporter

A new alert from federal health officials show overdose deaths from synthetic opioids like fentanyl continue to skyrocket at an alarming rate across the country.

Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data Wednesday revealing the majority of opioid-linked deaths are the result of synthetic opioids, which greatly vary in potency. Fentanyl is roughly 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, while the elephant tranquilizer carfentanil is roughly 100 times more powerful than fentanyl, reports NBC News.

The report shows synthetic opioids killed roughly 27,000 people across the U.S. in 2017, up from roughly 19,413 in 2016 and 9,580 lives in 2015. The sharp increase prompted a Health Alert Network warning from CDC officials advising of the ever-increasing presence of synthetic opioids in the drug supply, including in non-opioid narcotics such as cocaine. (RELATED: Study: States Might Be Undercounting Opioid Deaths By As Much As 70,000)

“The dramatic rise in the supply of illicitly manufactured fentanyl and fentanyl analogs has been mirrored by an equally dramatic rise in deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone, a category which includes fentanyl and fentanyl analogs,” officials said in the report, according to NBC News. “More than 55 percent of opioid overdose deaths occurring nationally in the 12 months ending November 2017 involved synthetic opioids, accounting for more than 27,000 overdose deaths. … This 12-month sum of synthetic opioid overdose deaths exceeds the total number of all opioid overdose deaths in 2013, when deaths involving synthetic opioids first began to climb.”

The health alert warns that first responders may not be aware of the amount of synthetic opioids floating around drug supplies in their community. It says patients suffering opioid overdoses may require increased care and “prolonged dosing of naloxone in the ED hospital setting due to a delayed toxicity that has been reported in some cases.”

Along with fentanyl and carfentanil, the CDC specifically warned of 3-methylfentanyl and U-47700, which are synthetic replications of fentanyl with slight chemical alterations.

“Finally, drug submissions testing positive for a synthetic illicit opioid known as U-47700, first encountered by the DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration] in 2016, increased from 533 submissions in 2016 to 1,087 during January–June, 2017,” officials said in the alert, according to NBC News.

Drug overdoses, fueled by synthetic opioids, are now the leading cause of accidental death for Americans under age 50, killing more than 64,000 people in 2016, according to the CDC.

The epidemic is contributing to declining life expectancy in the U.S., officials say. Life expectancy dropped for the second consecutive year in 2016 for the first time since an outbreak of influenza in 1962 and 1963.

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