While heroin use and overdoses are on the rise across America, a newer, more powerful synthetic drug called acetyl fentanyl (right)
is being branded a killer because of the high rate of overdoses linked to its use. The drug is working its way south, where many rural areas are already facing a heroin epidemic, brought on by officials' striving to stop the prescription drug problem. This opened the door for dealers and users to turn to cheaper, more easily accessible drugs like heroin—and acetyl fentanyl.
The dangers of acetyl fentanyl first came to major notice last year when Rhode Island reported 14 deaths from the drug from March 7 to May 26. At the time, there was little information about the drug. "We know that an astonishing number of Rhode
Islanders are dying from a mysterious, never-before-seen, man-made drug," Philip Eil reported for The Providence Phoenix. "But we know little else. Who? Where? Why?" The high number of deaths in Rhode Island led the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to release a health warning in June 2013.
Dr. Robert Swift, a psychiatry professor and associate director of Brown University’s Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, said fentanyl "is a synthetic opiate used for decades as an adjunct to other
anesthetics during surgeries," Eil writes. "Like
other opiates, fentanyl mimics chemicals in the brain—endorphins —
that make us feel good and dull or block the sensation of pain, Dr.
Swift says. Except fentanyl does this more quickly and more powerfully." The drug is described as being 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin. (Read more)
Last month 17 people in Alleghany, Pa., just outside Pittsburgh, died during a one-week period from the drug, and Pennsylvania public health officials say the drug was responsible for 50 deaths in 2013, Janice Crompton reports for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
. Medical examiner Karl Williams told Crompton, "We usually deal with 250 drug overdoses a year, so what's going on is really significant." (Read more
Now the drug is working its way south, with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services
issuing a health advisory Wednesday to state residents, after three acetyl fentanyl-related deaths were reported in North Carolina last month, Thomasi McDonald reports for the Charlotte Observer
. Dr. Justin Brower, who supervises the toxicology lab at the
state medical examiner’s office, told McDonald, “People in the street may not know what they are ingesting in their
body." He said that while it has side effects similar to heroin, “people can die
much more easily” from using it. (Read more
There were 38,329 overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2010, with overdoses being "the No. 1 accidental killer of
Americans 25 to 64 years old," Michael Ollove reports for Stateline
. While time is of the essence when trying to save the life of an overdose victim, officials say the problem is that many victims die because their friends and family don't respond to the overdose by immediately dialing 911 or driving to the emergency room, for fear that they will face criminal charges. Some states have tried to cure that problem by passing "Good Samaritan" laws "that grant limited immunity to drug users who seek help for someone who has overdosed." (Read more
According to a report by Trust for America's Health
"only 17 states and Washington, D.C. have laws in place to provide a
degree of immunity from criminal charges or mitigation of sentencing for
individuals seeking to help themselves or others experiencing an
overdose." Those states are Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois,
Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North
Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
The highest rate of drug overdose fatalities is in West Virginia, where numbers have quadrupled from 1999 to 2010, with 28.9 out of every 100,000 people dying of a drug overdose, according to the study. New Mexico had the second highest rate, at 23.8 deaths per every 100,000, and Kentucky, where numbers also quadrupled from 1999 to 2010, the rate was 23.6 deaths per every 100,000 people.
Other state rates: Nevada, 20.7; Oklahoma, 19.4; Arizona, 17.5; Missouri and Tennessee, 17; Utah, 16.9; Delaware, 16.6; Florida, 16.4; Ohio, 16.1; Rhode Island, 15.5; Pennsylvania, 15.3; Wyoming, 15; South Carolina, 14.6; Indiana, 14.4; Michigan, 13.9; Louisiana, 13.2; Washington, 13.1; District of Columbia, Montana, Oregon, 12.9; Colorado, 12.7; Arkansas, 12.5; Alabama, Idaho, New Hampshire, 11.8; Alaska 11.6; Mississippi and North Carolina, 11.4; Maryland and Massachusetts, 11; Hawaii and Wisconsin, 10.9; Georgia, 10.7; California, 10.6; Maine, 10.4; Connecticut, 10.1; Illinois, 10; New Jersey, 9.8; Vermont, 9.7; 43. Kansas and Texas, 9.6; Iowa, 8.6; New York, 7.8; Minnesota, 7.3; Virginia, 6.8;
Nebraska, 6.7; South Dakota, 6.3; North Dakota, 3.4. To read the report click here