Synthetic Opioid Deaths Surge 72 Percent, Ravage States Across US


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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Deaths from synthetic opioids containing powerful painkillers like fentanyl surged 72 percent between 2014 and 2015, but several states are experiencing even larger increases.

The emergence of fentanyl, a painkiller 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, and carfentanil, an elephant tranquilizer approximately 10,000 times stronger than morphine, is the primary driver behind the disturbing year-over-year spikes in opioid deaths. Some state are getting hit harder than others — like New York — which experienced a 135.7 percent increase in synthetic opioid and heroin deaths between 2014 and 2015. Connecticut saw a 125.9 percent increase over the same time, while deaths in Illinois spiked 120 percent, reports FOX 8.

South Carolina currently has the largest heroin death rate at 57 percent between 2014 and 2015. The heroin death rate also rose 46 percent in North Carolina and 43.5 percent in Tennessee over the same period. Heroin-related deaths tripled from 247 in 2011 to 748 in 2015 in Maryland, according to data from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

“With our patients, they were often completely unaware that the heroin or sometimes even just the pills that they were using had fentanyl in it,” Dr. Yngvild Olsen, a medical director in Baltimore, told WTOP.

Deaths from fentanyl-laced heroin in Maryland during the first half of 2016 doubled when compared to the same period in 2015. The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention warns no one is immune to the expanding opioid epidemic, noting similar increase in the rates of overdoses among all races and sexes and across socioeconomic lines. (RELATED: DEA Grabs ‘Largest Known Seizure’ Of Heroin In Massive Drug Bust)

“It pretty much affects everyone,” Sgt. Johnny Murray with the Hagerstown Police Department, told WTOP. “It’s just the pill epidemic, when that was uncontrolled and people were being able to ‘doctor shop’ and go to four or five different doctors and get these powerful narcotics.”

A record 33,000 people died from opioid overdoses in 2015. Health officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed Dec. 8 that for the first time ever, there were more deaths related to heroin than gun homicides or suicides in 2015.

Use of prescription painkillers is now more widespread in the U.S. than using tobacco. Many people who overdose on substances like heroin began with a dependence on prescription painkillers, but switched after building high tolerances that made them too expensive.

Heroin deaths contributed to the first drop in U.S. life expectancy since 1993. Opioid fatalities also eclipsed deaths from motor vehicle accidents in 2015. The substance accounts for roughly 63 percent of drug fatalities. The U.S. suffered the deadliest year on record for fatal drug overdoses, which claimed 52,404 lives in 2015.

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