May 1, 2018 – Overdose deaths involving dangerous synthetic opioids like fentanyl have skyrocketed in recent years, surpassing deaths from prescription painkillers, a new U.S. study reveals. Synthetic opioids – primarily fentanyl – were involved in more than 30 percent of fatal overdoses in 2016, up from roughly 8 percent in 2010, the researchers reported. Overall, drug overdose deaths involving fentanyl-type drugs in the United States rose from about 3,000 in 2010 to more than 19,400 in 2016.
“This is very consistent with data from the [U.S.] Drug Enforcement Administration that shows a great increase in the trafficking and availability of synthetic opioids like illicit fentanyl over the past few years,” said lead researcher Christopher Jones, of the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Prescription painkillers — the previous front-runner in U.S. drug overdose deaths – accounted for about 17,000 deaths in 2016, and heroin roughly 15,000, the study showed. According to Linda Richter, director of policy research and analysis with the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, the findings “solidly confirm what front-line health care and law enforcement professionals in towns and cities across the country know from firsthand experience: deadly synthetic opioids like fentanyl are now the main drivers of drug overdose deaths in the United States.”