Synthetic opioids like fentanyl are increasingly invading non-opioid drug supplies, creating a massive spike in overdose deaths from cocaine and anti-anxiety medication like Xanax.
Cocaine deaths spiked by 52 percent nationally between 2015 and 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, following many years of relatively stable numbers. The spike is blamed on fentanyl, a synthetic opioid roughly 30 to 50 times more potent than pure heroin, which is spreading across drug supplies like wildfire throughout the country, reports BuzzFeed News.
Officials estimate cocaine is now killing roughly 13,000 Americans each year, up from 6,700 in 2015. Fentanyl is also causing a rise in deaths attributed to benzodiazepines like Xanax. A study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry Tuesday shows one-third of all people who suffered a fatal overdose linked to benzodiazepines in 2016 also had fentanyl in their systems.
“We are certainly seeing fentanyl in cocaine, in methamphetamines, in pills, and a lot of other things,” Michael Rieders, a forensic scientist for NMS Laboratories, told BuzzFeed News.
Fentanyl overtook heroin as the deadliest substance in the U.S. in 2016, claiming 19,413 lives in 2017, according to data from the CDC. Authorities fear that because cocaine is more widely used as a social drug than a substance like heroin, many users are unaware of the fatal risks even a small amount of the drug now carries.
“They might take what they think is cocaine and not get the feeling they expect — in fact they get the opposite — and so they think they have to take more to get what they expect,” Leana Wen, the city health commissioner in Baltimore, told BuzzFeed News. “Instead they give themselves a fatal overdose of fentanyl.”
Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death for Americans under age 50, killing more than 64,000 people in 2016. 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.
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