‘High-Potency Opioids’ Spark More Than 40 Deaths This Year Outside Chicago

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Synthetic opioids like fentanyl are spreading death throughout the Chicago area, claiming more than 40 lives across Cook County since the start of the year.

Authorities are specifically concerned about an opioid drug called acrylfentanyl, a fentanyl analog, or synthetic replication of fentanyl. Fentanyl is a potent opiate used in hospitals to treat severe pain and is known to be roughly 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. The Cook County medical examiner says acrylfentanyl is responsible for at least 44 overdose deaths through April 2017, reports the Chicago Tribune.

The medical examiner is still waiting on toxicology reports for a number of overdose cases, meaning fatalities attributed to the synthetic opioid may rise. Last year, only seven deaths in the region were linked to acrylfentanyl.

“These high-potency opioids and opioid analogs are thousands of times stronger than street opioids like heroin and are far more likely to cause death,” Dr. Steve Aks, director of toxicology at Stroger Hospital, said in a prepared statement to the Chicago Tribune. “In many cases, one dose of naloxone, the heroin antidote, will revive a person who has overdosed on heroin. But we are seeing people in our emergency department who need increased doses of naloxone — in some cases as many as four doses — for the patient to be stabilized after ingesting fentanyl, or a heroin/fentanyl combination.”

Heroin overdose deaths spiked nearly 20 percent between 2014 and 2015 in Illinois and the disturbing trend continues. Fatal overdoses from synthetic opioids, which include fentanyl, climbed by 120 percent over the same period, claiming 278 lives.

An Illinois prosecutor is hitting pharmaceutical manufacturers with two lawsuits for deceiving the public on the dangers of opioids, which are blamed for the current levels of heroin abuse in the U.S.

Brendan Kelly, the state attorney for St. Clair County, filed a 159 page lawsuit April 20 against Purdue Pharma and Abbott Laboratories, accusing the companies of consumer fraud and profiting off deception. Kelly charges Purdue Pharma intentionally misled the public about the safety profile of opiate-based painkillers, all in the quest for greater profits.

Purdue Pharma are the makers of OxyContin, a painkiller linked to recent increases in heroin abuse. Abbott Laboratories aided Purdue in promotion and distribution of their products.

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