New data recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that half of all heroin users are exposed to fentanyl, and many of those exposures result in overdose. In reference to another study, researchers also noted that In 2015, Fentanyl was related to 122 of the 258 deadly overdoses, or nearly 50% of all overdose fatalities in the state or Rhode Island.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid similar to heroin but up to 50 times more powerful. In a health care setting, it is rarely used for anything other general anesthesia and severe pain. And truthfully, there’s isn’t much demand for illicit fentanyl.
In fact, most users try to avoid it given its potency and high potential for overdose. It’s laced into other drugs because its easy and inexpensive to make, and a little bit goes a long way. Often, users don’t have any idea that its mixed into their heroin or other drugs.
In fact, it’s believe that the artist Prince who died of a fentanyl overdose last year didn’t know what he was taking.
The study, which was published in the International Journal of Drug Policy (IJDP), targeted opioid users in Rhode Island, as fentanyl contamination is suspected in many illicit drugs. Participants in the research were nearly two-thirds male and white.
There were 149 subjects in the sample who misused either prescription or illicit opioids in 2016. Of these, 121 reported there were aware or suspected fentanyl was in illicit drugs in the past year:
“Illicit fentanyl use has become widespread in the U.S., causing high rates of overdose deaths among people who use drugs.”
The research also showed that heroin was the most common drug used (72% of participants) and around 50% of them stated they had been exposed to fentanyl. Interviewees who had consumed fentanyl described it as “unpleasant” and “potentially deadly.” The participants had “routinely” experienced or encountered overdoses that had not resulted in death.
Researchers posit that there are approaches that users can implement to reduce harm, such as buying illegally obtained prescription opioids rather than heroin and seeking treatment for addiction that offered medication-assisted therapy. Unfortunately, however, researchers also noted that most of these subjects had been unsuccessful in obtaining treatment in addiction programs.