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Synthetic Opioids Cause Spike in Overdose Deaths, Report Finds

A new report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month found a 264 percent increase in overdose deaths related to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, tramadol, and Demerol between 2012 and 2015.

Experts think the spike is likely related to illicitly manufactured drugs, particularly fentanyl, which is often cut with heroin or cocaine, rather than pharmaceutically manufactured synthetic opioids. Illegally manufactured fentanyl is often mixed with or sold as heroin. Fentanyl is 50-100 times more potent than morphine.

The report found that despite the spike in law enforcement drug reports, prescribing rates for legal fentanyl in states like West Virginia remained fairly stable, pointing to a likely increase and use of illegally manufactured synthetic opioids.

West Virginia has seen the most dramatic spike of drug deaths related to synthetic opioids followed by Ohio and Maine. Experts say the data points to the need for closer collaboration between public health and public safety groups. They recommend increasing the amount of the overdose antidote naloxone on hand for first responders and expanding naloxone access to people at risk for opioid-related overdose.

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Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from the Benedum Foundation, Charleston Area Medical Center and WVU Medicine.

Copyright 2017 West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Kara Leigh Lofton is the Appalachia Health News Coordinator at West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Previously Kara was a freelance reporter for WMRA, an affiliate of NPR serving the Shenandoah Valley and Charlottesville in Virginia. There she produced 70 radio reports in her first year of reporting, most often on health or environmental topics. One of her reports, “Trauma Workers Find Solace in a Pause That Honors Life After a Death,” circulated nationally after proving to be an all-time favorite among WMRA’s audience.