Fentanyl analogues were involved in 14% of opioid overdose deaths in the second half of 2016, according to an analysis of 10 states reporting to the Enhanced State Opioid Overdose Surveillance program.
“Illicitly manufactured fentanyl is a key factor driving opioid overdose deaths and … fentanyl analogues [such as carfentanil, furanylfentanyl, and acetylfentanyl] are increasingly contributing to a complex illicit opioid market with significant public health implications,” investigators said in a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (MMWR 2017 Oct 27;66[early release]:1-6).
The overall rate of 14% represents 720 of the 5,152 total opioid deaths occurring in 10 states over the 6-month study period, they noted.
Of the 10 states in the analysis, Maine had the largest proportion (28.6%) of opioid overdose deaths involving fentanyl analogues, with Ohio second at 26% and West Virginia third at 20.1%. Ohio had the largest overall number of analogue-involved overdose deaths, however, at 531 during July-December 2016. At 1.6%, Massachusetts had the lowest rate of fentanyl analogue–involved deaths among the seven states for which separate figures were given, the published data show. (Three states – Missouri [22 counties], Oklahoma, and Rhode Island – were grouped together and had a combined rate of 1%.)
More than half of the overdose deaths involving fentanyl or a fentanyl analogue also involved heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine, which means that almost half of the deaths “did not test positive for other illicit opioids, suggesting that fentanyl and fentanyl analogues might be emerging as unique illicit products,” the investigators wrote, adding that the fentanyl analogue situation “might mirror the rapidly rising trajectory of fentanyl overdose deaths that began in 2013 and become a major factor in opioid overdose deaths.”