Monday, April 17, 2017

Fentanyl deaths up 175% in Virginia; state had one of nation's lowest opioid death rates in 2015

A report from Virginia's medical examiner found that deaths in the state attributed to synthetic opioids, heroin and prescription fentanyl increased 38 percent from 2015 to 2016, with fentanyl deaths up 175 percent, Patricia Sullivan reports for The Washington Post. The total reported drug overdose deaths in Virginia in 2016 were 1,420, but health officials say that number is most likely low, "because the cause of death has not yet been certified for 60 cases." (Post graphic: Fatal fentanyl and/or heroin overdoses in Virginia)
State Health Commissioner Marissa Levine, who in November classified opioid addiction as an epidemic and declared a public health emergency, said she expects the problem to only get worse, Sullivan writes. Levine told her, “I don’t know when we’ll see a peak in deaths. It’s not just heroin causing people to die. It’s fentanyl and synthetic fentanyl with different potencies. We’re now seeing carfentanil (a drug 100 times more potent than fentanyl, used to tranquilize elephants). Someone who’s getting heroin laced with carfentanil could die easily.”

About 700 people died in Virginia from drug overdoses, mostly prescription opioids, from 2007-2010, Sullivan writes. That number jumped to 800 in 2011, then after the arrival of fentanyl, 1,028 in 2015. Nationwide, more than 28,000 people died of opioid overdoses in 2014. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said heroin deaths have tripled since 2010, with 10,500 deaths in 2014. Rural areas nationwide have been hit especially hard by opioids. 

Deaths from synthetic opioids other than methadone—such as fentanyl and tramadol—increased from eight percent to 18 percent in 2015, says a study from February by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To show how bad the epidemic has gotten in the U.S., despite the high numbers in Virginia from the state medical examiner, in 2015 Virginia had the 12th lowest age-adjusted drug-overdose death rate at 12.4 per 100,000 people. West Virginia led the nation in 2015, with a rate of 41.5.

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