Deaths from the powerful opioid fentanyl hit a record high in 2017 in the US, according to a government report on Tuesday that echoes findings from other countries.
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is often mixed with heroin and some street drugs. Most people use illicitly manufactured fentanyl, while others use counterfeit pills stamped with brand names.
Fentanyl is hundreds of times more potent than heroin and the most often fatal drug tested by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) – even more potent than heroin or other street drugs.
Deaths attributable to fentanyl in the US increased to more than 32,000 last year, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report. That was an increase of 6.3% over 2016, which set a previous record. Overdoses attributed to fentanyl were recorded in 42 states, up from 36 in 2016. The total number of overdoses in 2017 was more than 77,000.
The report coincides with other findings from other countries on the role of illicit synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, in drug-related deaths. The European agency tasked with tracking opioid trends for the EU said earlier this year it expects an epidemic of opioid addiction and deaths in Europe. But the agency said it expects no major changes in the raw numbers of opioid overdoses due to synthetic opioids.
A recent Associated Press analysis of US government statistics on drug overdose deaths, also revealed a surge in the deaths of white teenagers.
Fentanyl is designed to help cancer patients pain, but it is often improperly prescribed and smuggled into the US. It can be deadly if mixed with heroin, fentanyl patches and other substances.