Fentanyl Overdose Victims Rising in Massachusetts, New England
Fentanyl is powerful painkiller, which was synthesized for the treatment of chronic pain, especially in end-of-life situations. Recently, it’s been found laced into heroin, itself a potent drug. Individually, each of these drugs are deadly, but surprisingly, a fentanyl overdose is even more likely. When mixed together, the chance of a fatal overdose is insanely high.
But fentanyl, which looks like heroin, has also been sold all by itself – and sometimes without the user’s knowledge. It is something like 50 times more potent than heroin, and 100 times more powerful than morphine.
Fentanyl has been in use since the 1960s in clinical settings. In recent year, however, ill-gotten fentanyl has creeped into the U.S. from Mexican labs. Indeed, Mexican drug producers have found ways to manufacture fentanyl cheaply and efficiently.
A year ago, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued an alert, stating that fentanyl overdoses were “occurring at an alarming rate throughout the United States and represent a significant threat to public health and safety.”
In some areas of New England, fentanyl is now responsible for more deaths than heroin. User say its cheaper and the high is better. However, using fentanyl is also considered akin to playing Russian roulette.
A jump in deaths 2014 (219) once thought the fault of heroin, turned out to be fentanyl, according to toxicology reports. It was also reported that 336 people died from fentanyl overdose between 2014-2015. That’s an increase of 53%.
In 2013, the state police crime lab discovered pure fentanyl in only six cases. Two years later, in 2015, the lab reported 425 cases -70 times as many.
In the past month, roughly 300 grams fentanyl have been intercepted in Haverhill.
Lawrence, MA – Drug Hub
Some of the biggest busts occurred or near Lawrence, MA. It’s an old mill town just 30 miles north of Boston, and is positioned in the nexus of many major highways. It has been considered a major drug hub for some time. It appears to the epicenter of the fentanyl market, where it is trafficked and sold throughout New England.
In a 2015 seizure, police from Massachusetts and New Hampshire intercepted 33 pounds of fentanyl and heroin, street value of over $2 million. Most of it was from a home Lawrence. In January of this year, another 66 pounds of fentanl-laced heroin was confiscated in Tewksbury.
Fentanyl deemed responsible for 158 fatalities last year, whereas heroin was blamed for just 32. Additionally, fentanyl factored into 120 more deaths, and heroin another 56. So basically, fenanyl was involved in 3 times as many fatalities as heroin.
Vermont reported 29 fentanyl overdose deaths in 2015, up from 18 (2014) and 12 (2013). That’s an increase of 142% in just two years.
In Maine, fentanyl overdose deaths increased to 87 in 2015, up from 42 (2014) and 9 (2013), a staggering 867% percent increase.
The New England Epidemic
Since 2013, New England as a region has seen a huge increase in fentanyl overdose deaths, and in fact, drug overdose deaths in general. This is a disturbing trend throughout the U.S., but New England states have been hit incredibly hard.
Law enforcement is discovering increasing amounts of fentanyl in drug seizures, and nationally, the total number of seizures reported in 2014 increased to nearly 4600, up from just 618 in 2012.
And the majority of seizures were located in New England and eastern states, such as Ohio, Indiana, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, Kentucky, Virginia, and New Hampshire.
Only outlier Florida was a high-seizure state located deep in the south.
In recent news, New Orleans also reports a dramatic increase in fentanyl overdose deaths. In January of this year, 11 opiate-related deaths were reported by the coroner’s office. Of those, 8 of them revealed that fentanyl was present.
By comparison, 12 people died from fentanyl overdose in the entire year of 2015.
Facts about Fentanyl
- Fentanyl is roughly 50 times more powerful than heroin, and 100 times more potent than morphine. It is strong and fast-acting, and can cause death within seconds.
- According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fentanyl street names also include apache, China girl, China white, dance fever, goodfella, jackpot, and TNT, among others.
- National statistics on fentanyl overdose deaths are likely underreported. Most state crime labs and coroner’s officer don’t track fentanyl-related deaths. Some do not even have the capability of testing for it.
- Most deaths have been reported in the northeast, mid-Atlantic, and Appalachia regions. In these areas, it is often laced into heroin.
- It is thought to be slowly seeping into the midwest, as well.
- U.S. physicians penned over 6 million fentanyl prescriptions in 2015. While most fentanyl overdose deaths are from the illicit drug, some have resulted from semi-legitimate medical sources.
One of the scariest things about fentanyl is how fast-acting it is. For heroin and other opiate drugs, anti-overdose medication such as naloxone can be used to reverse effects, thus saving lives. But fentanyl can kill people in under 10 seconds – meaning there’s a much smaller chance of survival, or even the possibility of getting a life-saving saving antidote rendered in time.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology
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