Fentanyl May Be Killing Even More Americans Than Previously Known — Here’s Why

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Dylan Housman Deputy News Editor
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Only five percent of emergency department (ED) visits for drug overdoses include fentanyl screenings, according to a new analysis from Epic Research and the Center for Substance Abuse Research at the University of Maryland.

The lack of testing means that fentanyl, a highly-lethal drug which is now the leading killer of young Americans, could be killing even more people than previously known, the report said. When fentanyl screening was done, the positivity rate was over 41%, more than triple the positivity rate of other opioids.

Routine toxicology screenings administered to overdose patients in the ED include tests for opioids, but typical opioid tests do not detect fentanyl, a synthetic opioid. As a result, the positivity rate for opiate screenings has dropped below 14% in recent years even as overdose deaths from synthetic opioids reach record highs.

The data suggest more and more Americans are likely dying from fentanyl use instead, the researchers said. Researchers examined 315,467 overdose ED visits between 2017 and early 2022. Opiates tests were run in about half of visits, roughly ten times the rate of fentanyl testing, despite the latter returning positives more than three times as often. (RELATED: Overdose Deaths Soared In 2021, Especially In Teens)

Chinese-made fentanyl trafficked across the southern border into the United States has been a major contributor to record high overdose death numbers during the past several years. Nearly 110,000 Americans died from overdoses in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the highest number ever recorded.