Florida County Sees Massive Spike In Deaths Linked To Elephant Tranquilizer

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Early drug overdose data from 2017 in Florida reveals carfentanil, a synthetic painkiller used for tranquilizing elephants, killed more people than heroin, fentanyl and morphine combined.

A report released by the Medical Examiners Commission in April documenting drugs identified in deceased persons shows carfentanil eclipsed both heroin and fentanyl in the first half of 2017 as the deadliest drug in Florida’s District 12, which includes Manatee, Sarasota and DeSoto. The region now trails only West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale in deaths from fentanyl analogs, reports the Bradenton Herald.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid roughly 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. Analogs, or synthetic replications of fentanyl with a few alterations like carfentanil, can be as much as 10,000 times more powerful than morphine.

Carfentanil overdoses in District 12 claimed 111 lives over the first half of 2017, up from only 13 in 2016. The report also notes a sharp rise in cocaine deaths over the first half of last year. Officials are troubled by the data but say deaths related to fentanyl analogs appear to be declining in recent months, though the numbers are not finalized.

The powerful substance is increasingly cropping up in both heroin and cocaine supplies in communities throughout the country. Officials in Washington County, Penn., issued an alert in February warning that several recent overdose cases turned up positive for cocaine and carfentanil.

In neighboring Westmoreland County, where 30 overdose deaths were attributed to carfentanil in 2017, officials say overdoses linked to the substance increased toward the end of the year.

“We saw a few cases pop up early in 2017, but then by the end of the year it really picked up,” Ken Bacha, coroner for Westmoreland County, told TribLive. “This drug is so powerful and so deadly.”

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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Opioid overdoses made up a staggering 66 percent of all drug overdose deaths in 2016, surpassing the annual number of lives lost to breast cancer.

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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