Up by 540%: The Sad Reality of the Fentanyl Death Toll in 2017

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Fentanyl has been around since 1960, but recent overdose statistics have made it more newsworthy than ever. Its potent strength makes it incredibly dangerous and, according to recent statistics, extremely deadly. In 2016, more than 50,000 Americans died from overdoses— 9,580 of which were caused by synthetic opioids like fentanyl. That’s a massive jump from numbers reported just two years earlier, when fentanyl was responsible for the deaths of over 5,000 Americans. In the past three years, the fentanyl death toll has risen by 540%. The death toll is at an all-time high, and it’s only rising. In 2016, fentanyl accounted for the biggest spike in deaths for any drug monitored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The synthetic opioid death rate increased by 72.2% from 2014 to 2015. Fentanyl is now responsible for more deaths than heroin. To put that in perspective, the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis made the following statement in a report on the opioid crisis: “With approximately 142 Americans dying every day, America is enduring a death toll equal to September 11th every three weeks.”

How Did Fentanyl Become so Widely Available?

As this synthetic opioid becomes increasingly common on the streets, more and more people find themselves trapped under its hypnotizing and deadly spell. You might have heard about fentanyl from a documentary, such as Vice’s Fentanyl: The Drug Deadlier than Heroin. This documentary has been viewed almost five million times on YouTube. It focuses on Canada’s fentanyl problem, and provides an honest insight into the lives of people affected by synthetic opioids. Fentanyl gained notoriety in the media after the death of musician Prince. The music icon overdosed on the opioid in April 2016. He was 57 years old. But this wasn’t the first time fentanyl made headlines for claiming the life of a famous figure. In 2003, Slipknot’s bass player Paul Gray passed away from a fentanyl and morphine overdose at the age of 38. These untimely deaths were tragic, but they highlighted the very real danger of fentanyl outside of its intended medical uses.

Why Is Fentanyl So Deadly?

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, fentanyl and its analogues can be anywhere from 50 to 10,000 times more powerful than morphine. This makes the risk of overdose incredibly high. Fentanyl is undoubtedly the most dangerous opioid. While it can be useful when administered in a medical setting to patients who really need it — for example, people with cancer — it’s dangerously powerful when abused in any other capacity. A major contributing factor to its unpredictable and often deadly side effects is the fact that much of the fentanyl purchased illegally on the street has been manufactured in illegal laboratories. Illicit narcotic manufacturers favor fentanyl due to the fact that it’s both highly addictive and cheaper to produce than heroin. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that illicitly manufactured fentanyl is sometimes mixed with other substances, such as heroin and cocaine. Sometimes fentanyl is mixed into other illegal narcotics, such as counterfeit prescription opioid pills. This makes it impossible to know the exact strength of any illegally bought fentanyl. Sadly, fentanyl is highly addictive. Like many opioids, it occupies the brain’s opioid receptors. When people use fentanyl, the brain releases a massive amount of dopamine. The brain begins to crave this high more and more, leading to physical addiction. The way that fentanyl affects the brain also impacts the body’s respiratory system, which can be fatal. Many people first become addicted to opioids after being prescribed painkiller such as oxycodone. As the brain becomes addicted, it builds up a tolerance to the effects. This can cause people to seek out stronger and stronger opioids, including fentanyl. Opioid tolerance also occurs with fentanyl use. This is what causes people to take higher doses, often resulting in overdose and even death.

The Deadly Impact Of Fentanyl In Different States

Deaths from synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, have increased in many single states. But it’s clear to see that some have been hit a lot harder than others. According to the Center or Disease Control and Prevention, the states that have seen the worst increases in synthetic opioids are:

  • Illinois
  • Tennessee
  • West Virginia
  • Ohio
  • New York
  • Maine
  • Connecticut
  • New Hampshire

Other East coat states have also experienced significant increased in overdoses, including:

  • Georgia
  • South Carolina
  • North Carolina
  • Virginia
  • Maryland

However, many states that weren’t mentioned as they did not meet the inclusion criteria. As such, the seriousness of fentanyl abuse and addiction in those areas should not be dismissed. Ohio County’s high amount of fentanyl casualties has caused it to be dubbed the “overdose capital of America”. In the county of Frederick, Maryland, a billboard has been erected that displays the total number of opioid-related overdoses. Boston has seen a significant increase in fentanyl-related deaths, despite a recent decline in fatal opioid-related overdoses. In fact, 69% of overdose fatalities that received toxicology screenings in the state of Massachusetts in 2016 tested positive for fentanyl. These statistics all paint a very clear picture: the fentanyl death toll isn’t slowing down anytime soon. 2017 isn’t quite over yet, which means we haven’t even seen the most recent statistics on fentanyl in America. It’s estimated that nearly half a million Americans could be killed by opioids in the next decade.

What Is The Government Doing In Response?

The DEA reports that 239 kilograms of fentanyl were seized between 2013 and 2015. But despite this, the drug continues to spread across the country, claiming more and more lives every year. The US government is taking measures to try and curb the spread of fentanyl. Earlier this year, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs scheduled two fentanyl precursors and one fentanyl analogue. This means that orders for these chemicals will be closely monitored, hopefully curbing illegal manufacturing. President Trump recently declared America’s opioid epidemic a national emergency. He promised to provide more funds and resources to tackle the problem. However, recent changes to Medicaid means that many people with opioid addiction will be unable to access the required treatment, as it may not be covered by their insurance. Former White House Office of National Drug Control Policy director Michael Botticelli has called for a complete nation-wide ban on high-grade prescription opioids, petitioning congress in an effort to curb America’s overdose statistics. Naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of fentanyl, is currently the best fentanyl treatment against the effects of fentanyl. It’s administered in the case of an overdose, and can save lives. But it’s still not a solution for the growing opioid epidemic.

The Effect Of Fentanyl On All Of America

You may not think you’re personally affected by the fentanyl crisis, but that’s not true at all. Drug abuse and addiction puts a huge drain on America’s resources, which can be a burden to all taxpayers and citizens. Treating the high number of fentanyl overdoses put a huge strain on medical resources. Hospital emergency rooms, medical responders and police are often busy dealing with fentanyl emergencies. Fentanyl use can also cause the following health issues:

  • Liver and kidney failure
  • Higher pain tolerance, which can be dangerous if an injury occurs
  • Depression and anxiety

Illegal fentanyl use often involves intravenous injection. People who use opioids this way can expose themselves to diseases such as Hepatitis C and HIV. These conditions require ongoing medical treatment, which can financially burden both the patient and public resources. People who have fentanyl addictions often resort to crime to support their habit, which burdens the justice system. Not to mention the funding and manpower that must be allocated toward restricting the manufacture and supply of fentanyl into American communities. Given how addictive and strong fentanyl is, people who use it are often incapable of living normal lives. Their performance at work and school can suffer, and they often find themselves unable to contribute to society. This drop in the workforce means less stimulation to the economy.

A Problem That Might Affect You

Drug addiction can happen to anyone. With so many people abusing synthetic opioids, it’s possible that you or someone you know may have already developed a problem. Are you concerned that a loved one may be using fentanyl? The following symptoms are common warning signs for opioid use:

  • Drowsiness
  • Difficulty communicating and responding
  • Frequently falling asleep (“nodding off”)
  • Marks and bruises on body, especially the arms
  • A runny nose
  • Small, constricted pupils
  • Unexplained euphoria

If you’ve noticed these symptoms in someone you know, it’s important to intervene. It’s not easy, but it may just save their life. Supporting someone with an addiction is hard, but support groups exist to help you through this process. If you use drugs, you may already be exposing yourself to fentanyl— even if you’ve never intentionally bought or used it. With fentanyl being reported in a number of other illicit substances, it’s never been more important to stop abusing drugs. It’s just not worth the risk of exposing yourself to this deadly opioid. If you’ve been using fentanyl, you might think that quitting is an impossible feat. But it doesn’t have to be. A number of treatments exist to help people overcome their opioid addiction and lead a healthy, full life. Our outpatient model allows you to develop the strength needed to resist temptation and understand the reasons behind your addiction. With this method, you can still continue to see your friends and family, go to work or school, and do everything else you would normally do in an average day. Unlike inpatient treatment, it doesn’t require you to put your life on hold. Drug rehab can sometimes involve opioid replacement therapy (ORT). These medications help you to stop using dangerous substances like fentanyl without many of the usual withdrawal symptoms. As much as you may feel powerless to your addiction, it’s entirely possible to take back your health and your life. Don’t become another statistic. Reach out and start your recovery today.


National Institute on Drug Abuse Centers for Disease Control and Prevention United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime NBC News Chicago Tribune PBS The Pew Charitable Trusts The Guardian Boston Business Journal Vox The Washington Post President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis Stat News NPR New York Times