The number of opioid overdose deaths involving fentanyl analogs nearly doubled from the second half of 2016 to the first half of 2017, according to preliminary data from 10 states.
During July 2016 to December 2016, there were 764 opioid overdose deaths that tested positive for any fentanyl analog, with carfentanil being the most common (421 deaths). From January 2017 to June 2017, the respective numbers increased by 98% (1,511) and 94% (815), wrote Julie O’Donnell, PhD, and her associates at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. The report was published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
“The increasing array of fentanyl analogs highlights the need to build forensic toxicological testing capabilities to identify and report emerging threats, and to enhance capacity to rapidly respond to evolving drug trends,” Dr. O’Donnell and her associates said.
Along with carfentanil, 13 other analogs were detected in decedents during the 12-month period: 3-methylfentanyl, 4-fluorobutyrfentanyl, 4-fluorofentanyl, 4-fluoroisobutyrfentanyl, acetylfentanyl, acrylfentanyl, butyrylfentanyl, cyclopropylfentanyl, cyclopentylfentanyl, furanylethylfentanyl, furanylfentanyl, isobutyrylfentanyl, and tetrahydrofuranylfentanyl. Deaths may have involved “more than one analog, as well as ... other opioid and nonopioid substances,” they noted.
The 10 states reporting data to the State Unintentional Drug Overdose Reporting System (SUDORS) were Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Two other SUDORS-reporting states – Missouri and Pennsylvania – did not have their data ready in time to be included in this analysis.
The increasing availability of fentanyl analogs hit Ohio especially hard: More deaths occurred there than in the other 10 states combined. Of the 421 carfentanil-related deaths in July 2016 to December 2016, nearly 400 were in Ohio, and there were 218 Ohio deaths in April 2017 alone. A look at the bigger picture shows that 3 of the 10 states reported carfentanil-related overdose deaths in the second half of 2016, compared with 7 in the first half of 2017, the investigators said.
Carfentanil, which is the most potent of the 14 fentanyl analogs that have been detected so far, “is intended for sedation of large animals, and is estimated to have 10,000 times the potency of morphine,” Dr. O’Donnell and her associates wrote.